Originally we had intended to take the train from Ho Chi Minh city out to Nha Trang, on the east coast of Vietnam with the journey taking about 6 hours. However, with the flights being $40USD (and cheaper than the train) it made sense to do the 40 minute flight. I’d barely tightened my seatbelt and we were landing.
For anyone flying into Nha Trang the city now uses an airport south of the town as the old airstrip is literally across the road from the beach. Be aware with grabbing a taxi from the airport, unlike in Ho Chi Minh where you want the taxi drivers to use their meter, in Nha Trang you want to negotiate the fair before leaving. Our driver was trying to speed off and I had to literally pull up the handbrake to get him to stop and agree our fare.
We checked into a nice apartment across from the beach on the 10th floor. Sadly no beach views but the 15th floor rooftop had a pool and a fantastic view across the coastline of Nha Trang. The city is basically Russian, they are everywhere. As I would later learn many of the local Vietnamese aren’t especially fond of the Russians that they cater for. They feel that despite the diplomatic relationship the two countries enjoy many of the Russian visitors treat the Vietnamese people as inferior and there to cater to their needs. On the streets and in the restaurants I could see a little of this tension and we found that if you take a bit of time to talk to people and explain that you’re not Russian (and Lou isn’t American!) then they like this and you’ll benefit from pricing on some occasions. To us, Nha Trang was expensive compared to Ho Chi Minh City. Versus the developed world it’s all still very cheap though.
Nha Trang feels like a somewhat typical beach resort destination. There are cafes and restaurants on the beach and the coastline is littered with hotels of various sizes and qualities. The beach is nice and the water is pretty clear – although it doesn’t match the quality of the beaches in the Philippines we were somewhat surprised. Most days we looked forward to getting work out the way so we could relax for the afternoon. On the beach you can hire a couple of sun loungers and an umbrella for about $3USD so we took advantage.
Thanks to a Skype call with our friend Stu we knew that we wanted to check out the popular mud baths of Nha Trang and after a little research we settled on the 100 Egg Mud Bath (about 20mins in a taxi from Nha Trang). Lou and I were shocked by the size of the place, not to mention the abundance and variety of eggs. Outside of our mud bath inside an oversized egg, there are a couple of nice pools and a waterfall to enjoy. The grounds of the park are full of eggs but there is also a nice walk worth doing. The park is set onto a hillside you can ascend and get a great view back across to Nha Trang. We enjoyed a half day here relaxing in an alternative setting!
Just off the coast of Nha Trang is an island called Vinpearl that is accessible by the worlds longest over water cable car – fact. I think. Annoyingly you have to pay about $30USD per person for a ticket to use the cable car. In Europe this would be about the right ripoff price and generally you’d make some under the breath comment and cough up the money. In Vietnam that’s a lot for a cable car ride. Apparently the ride goes to a theme park but according to some very recent TripAdvisor feedback most of the rides are closed or being refurbished. I feel like now is a good time to cut this paragraph off by saying that we didn’t go.
Instead of Vinpearl we decided to do some island hopping and snorkeling. Lou grabbed a brochure from the hotel and there were a number of tour options, from a drinking party tour, through to a diving tour and what seemed to be a relaxing tour with snorkeling. Perfect! We booked in for some quality relaxation and snorkeling amongst the islands off the coast of Nha Trang.
The next morning we sat in the hotel lobby waiting for the coach. We jumped on with a ton of Chinese tourists, I wasn’t sure where they’d come from as all I’d seen that week was Russians. The bus took us down the coast about 10 minutes to the port where all the various tour boats depart and we were shuffled into a waiting area with very little organisation. We got put onto a boat with about 30 people and got chatting to a nice Canadian couple. Our tour guide, an energetic Vietnamese guy, grabbed the mic and gave us the itinerary complete with some bad jokes. It would appear that our understanding of tour setup was a little off the mark. There are not different tours. They are all the same. So, we were on a party cruise with a Canadian couple and what appeared to be a mix of Vietnamese and Chinese. God help me.
Lou decided to try and cheer me up with encouraging statements such as “Make the most of it” and “We’re here now so may as well enjoy ourselves”. It didn’t work. Having said that our first stop was a lot of fun, we crossed a pebble beach area to do some snorkeling. The water was warm and clearer than back at the beach of Nha Trang. We spent awhile cruising over a variety of different fish and marine life working around the rocks below us in relative peace. Most of the Chinese and Vietnamese tourists were back onshore extending and retracting selfie sticks. Bliss. In fact it was so nice that Lou didn’t want to come out of the water and carried on snorkeling for a good 20 minutes after me.
For lunch our boat tied up with two other boats near a floating fishing village. It’s interesting because many families will live on these villages to catch fish. With our boat and the two others nearby they must love seeing the tourists come in for lunch. Or not.
After our buffet style lunch of seafood, rice and spring rolls we were treated to some entertainment on the boat. As our boat was centre stage the music got cranked up to help us soak in the dance routine of a crew member dressed as a ladyboy. I thought that this wasn’t so bad, a bit of harmless fun. After his routine the other crew members joined in to do a few songs and the main tour guide went around the boats to ask people where they were from. Not so bad.
However, his next badly phrased English announcement did worry me a little bit – he was going to choose people from the boats to come up and sing, in front of about 100 people. Of my many skills (changing lightbulbs, being a meeting beacon in large crowds etc) singing isn’t one of them. I am tone deaf. And I was the only English person on the boat.
“UK STAND UP!”
Factually “stand up” was a poor choice of words. I couldn’t even fit on the mini stage they had put together for the main performance area. And it wasn’t just that which added to the “allure” of my performance to come. Having spent the previous hour snorkeling and sunbathing I didn’t have a top on. But do you know what I really love about tourists? Specifically Asian tourists? They love a picture.
In the haze of a bad effort to perform Oasis Wonderwall (a favorite of mine that got promptly butchered) all I could see in the sea of people ahead of me was camera phones. I am confident I have become an online viral sensation in Asia. As awkward moments go it was high on my top hits. And made even worse by the singers that followed me. Now, I know I’m following every Asian stereotype in the book here but they could all sing, probably as a result of a wealth of karaoke experience. China, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam all followed me with beautiful renditions of their countries’ music. I’d made the UK look even worse, like a terrible entry in the Eurovision song contest from an outlier nation that most people just find funny for all the wrong reasons.
Following the lunch entertainment we were able to jump off the top of the boat and swim in the bay whilst grabbing drinks from a crew member on a dingy in the middle of the water. I had to have a couple of shots just to take the edge off my experience. Most people were somewhat hesitant or afraid to jump off the boat (about 15ft) but after the canyoneering experience Lou and myself had no problems!
Now I could wax lyrical about the various food options available, accommodation and dense population of Russians in Nha Trang but I figured another story of personal embarrassment would be higher on the reading agenda. If you’re thinking of going to Nha Trang I’d recommend it, the beach is beautiful and the climate is superb.
Lou and myself were out looking for lunch one day when a random meeting changed the complexion of our trip completely, forcing us both outside of our comfort zones. More on this in the next part of the journey!