A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Nha Trang, Vietnam

We took a daytime bus, an 11 hour ride, to Nha Trang on the central eastern coast of Vietnam. Other than an unannounced bus change in Mui Ne, the ride was comfortable and painless. Known as the best beach town in the country, we were looking to escape the bustle of HCMC. The beach wasn’t as impressive, nor as clean as those in Thailand, with rubber bands, plastic grocery sacks, and other slimy kitchen-drawer contents sticking to you like urban seaweed. At least the waves were more exciting, and the sun was still a-shining, and the sand was fluffy underfoot.

We stayed at the Ha Van Hotel right in the heart of the action. The hotel was lovely, with a veritable plethora of breakfast choices at their rooftop restaurant: banana crepes, cheese omelette, eggs with bacon, and fruit n yogurt. At night, the space morphs into a bar that serves up vile cocktails. We went for our “welcome” drink and was assured we could order anything on the drink menu by two separate staff members. One gin fizz ruined by sour lime juice and one sorry excuse for a long island later, we were presented with the bill. Even after calling downstairs and explaining the situation we were SOL. Oh well. We eventually did get our welcome drink and learned our lesson that anyone can feign misunderstanding due to language issues, but it will rarely work out in your favor. Our bright, clean balcony room was plush and lifted our spirits from Ron’s apartment crises.

If we were in need of a drinking establishment, there was always the bar across the street beckoning “Why Not?” that served our favorite buckets of booze. Their rendition included red bull, pineapple juice, and whiskey. Mmm sweet concoctions inducing short term memory loss...indeed, why not?

One of the famous local attractions of the city is the Thap Ba Hot Springs where we could take a communal mud bath, soak in a heart-shaped mineral tub, and lounge around the pools all day for a measly $12 a piece. I had visions of wallowing in a deep mud bath, but it was more like muddy water or a Yoohoo© consistency than the thick mud of my imagination. Since Tet was over, it wasn’t all that busy, and we were lucky to get our own tub. I had never been in a mud bath so it was an unnatural experience to be smeared with mud all over my body, in my hair, between my toes. My skin glowed, from the rich nutrients, for days afterwards. Ron didn‘t dare bring his camera, so you will have to just pretend this is us.

After several hours of soaks and dips in the various tubs and pools, we went for our first massage in Vietnam. Performed by two pint-sized girls, it was not the best massage I’ve had by any means, but there was an element of novelty when she leapt up onto my back, steadying herself by a mounted bar overhead, and walked up my spine. Thankfully, I could walk myself right on out of there 45 minutes later, so no harm, no foul.

We rode the longest sea crossing cable car in the world over 3 kilometers to Vin Pearl island, where we cavorted at another amusement park in Vietnam. Ron and I share a love for acting like kids and have frequented 8 amusement parks around the world since we began dating. (I’m sure our future children will love this about us.) The water slides were steep and scary as usual, made even more so because all the floor was made of steel grating. This is murder on the soft undersides of your feet, not that I noticed. I had to face my most petrifying fear of walking on see-through ground, first up several stories of transparent stairs where I clung onto the banister for dear life, to the platform at least 100 feet up which I raced across fighting back the vertigo. Good thing there were no lines. The fear of the ride down was no match for the walk up, and soon I was looking for alternate ways to while away the afternoon.

The wave pool was tumultuous and fun, as was the lazy river that seemed miles long with one stretch through a spooky cave. It was a poor-mans Pirates of the Caribbean, only you weren’t in a boat but a deflatable inner tube, floating by the odd element of danger and other sharp objects in the water. The waterpark edged against a beautiful sandy beach where we built sand castles on the shore and read our books. Also, included in the ticket price was all the rides at the adventure park, so we rode their compact rollercoaster 5-6 times, watched monkeys ride bicycles in a circus show, walked under sharks and stingrays at the aquarium, smashed into each others bumper cars, and played every game in the coin-free arcade. The trip back on the cable car felt like another ride, as we swayed on the cable high over the ocean, the lights twinkling and reflecting off the depths we hope we wouldn’t topple into.

Nha Trang has some of the best diving spots in Vietnam, so we didn’t want to miss out on a snorkel trip. The scuba shops didn’t really want snorkelers along unless they couldn’t fill the more expensive scuba slots. The other option was the much publicized party boat, offered by Mamma Linh, sure to be jam-packed with twenty somethings dancing to annoying music along with a floating bar, which we ended up learning was one dude in a buoy serving watered down wine. By chance one day, we spotted a sign that said something to the effect of “This is a real snorkeling trip if you want to snorkel, this is not a party boat” so naturally we signed up on the spot. It was $13/each at Vu’s Tour Adventure and we were not disappointed. It was a fabulous day of snorkeling at two different popular coral reefs around Mun and Mot islands. The full day excursion included a sumptuous buffet-style lunch with banana-leaf bowls full of shrimp, grilled fish, spring rolls, noodles, rice. A real spread of local cuisine. We gorged to our hearts content and leapt back into the water, a little less buoyant, but excited to explore the underwater world that awaited us.

We went to dinner with a Canadian couple, Robyn and Eric, that we met on the snorkel trip. They took us to a street side restaurant (which by day doubled as a car wash) that served Bo Ne which is beef grilled with onions and a spicy red sauce next to an egg that cooks itself on the hot caste iron skillet its served atop. You then mix it all up, spoon it into a baguette, and voila! steak and egg surprise. I nicknamed it “The Lisa Bonet“, since a catchy name would both help me remember how to pronounce it and slightly comfort me with a reference to The Cosby Show, that all-American institution of our youth.


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