Jan 28 – Feb 2
Nha Trang is a beach resort about two-thirds of the way down the coast from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh. We’d got the overnight train from Hoi An, in the hard sleeper compartment rather than soft sleeper as that was booked up. Hard sleeper wasn’t as bad as we were expecting (there was a thin mattress), but there was much less space in the cabin than in the soft sleeper (six berths vs. four).
We arrived in Nha Trang about 6am, and outside the station was the usual cacophony of taxi drivers and hotel touts. We brushed them off and got into a taxi and asked to be taken to an area where we could go and check out several hotels. Unfortunately a tout had got to the taxi driver and he took us to a hotel we’d already dismissed, but we were getting wise to this sort of thing now, so we didn’t open the taxi doors and after a bit of shouting he took us on to where we’d asked to go. We dragged our luggage out of the car and onto the edge of the beach which looked very nice with the sun rising over it. Jo and Jacqui went to find a hotel for us and after checking out a few they came back reporting sucess, so we grabbed our bags and staggered up the road to the Thanh Binh hotel. Nice enough place for US$8 per night, and we were on the first floor – yippee, less stairs!
One of the nicest people we met in Vietnam was the receptionist at the hotel, Anh. She was 20 and came from a village near Hue but she hardly ever got back to see her 9 siblings. Thanh Binh was a family run hotel but they employed Anh, probably because she spoke good english, and also a cleaner. If you asked any of the family anything they would run off and get Anh anytime of the day or night – she seemed to do just about everything. We felt terrible when she was woken up and came into reception in her nightie one evening, yawning away. She was genuinely delighted to meet us all though which was lovely and even though she was almost a slave she was always happy and friendly with us. When we left she said, ‘you come back to my hotel?’. She hoped that we would be happy and bring our children to Nha Trang one day, and then she said hopefully, ‘maybe I not work here then’. We got our nicest farewell from Anh and the cleaner; hugs and lots of waving as our taxi left.
Amanda and Toni, the two English girls we’d met on the train, ended up in the hotel next door to us. Both hotels were on the main beach front road – which is a nice location, but it got incredibly noisy in the mornings as the Vietnamese headed to work at 6am, and construction work going on in a building nearby at all hours didn’t help.
We’d planned to stay in Nha Trang for several days as we’d all been missing the beach and it had been a hectic last couple of weeks and it turned out to be a nice place to spend a week. The weather wasn’t great so somedays we couldn’t make it onto the beach, but there were plenty of other things to do – like getting a roadside hair cut and ear clean. The many beach bars in Nha Trang were lovely spots to spend the evening. The first night we were there was the Full Moon and there was a party on at the Sailing Club. They lit a bonfire on the beach and we sat and watched the waves just metres away from us while listening to funky music. The full moon lit the beach up and you could dig your feet into the sand while having a drink; so relaxing, so peaceful, so perfect….
Thap Ba Hot Spring Center – so good we went twice
The Hot Spring Center in Nha Trang was a wonderful place to relax and be pampered. There is no way you can’t relax when your body is immersed in mineral spring water which is almost unbearably hot. None of this swimming lengths malarky, all you can do is lie on a float and unwind – heaven. Jacqui, Sue and I went the first time and had the full treatment. A private hot mud bath which is the consistency of melted chocolate – if only. Then we lay in the sun until the mud baked onto our skin and washed it off under a hot mineral spring water shower. We spent the rest of the day sitting in a variety of hot mineral spring water pools. The water everywhere is boiling hot, even under the waterfall, so the only way to cool down is to get out of the water. I was desperately trying to find a cold water pool to cool down in. This day of total relaxation and pampering cost just £7.50 each. The second time Richard and Amanda came too. Sue and I decided to try another treatment – the steam bath and massage. The steam bath was great but the massage was the real experience. First you strip! Then you (barely) cover your modesty with a pair of lovely shorts and a towel. Luckily we were in the same room because it was quite a nerve racking experience and I think if we’d been put in seperate rooms we’d have run off. We let out a few small screams and exclamations when the unexpected happened like joints being cricked or the masseur jumping on top of you and walking down your back. The worst and best bit was when my masseur put her hands on my head and cricked my neck, I let out an involuntary four letter exclamation which warned Sue what she could expect. We had over an hour of being pushed, pulled and pummelled – it was actually a great massage.
Mama Hanh’s Boat Trip – the original party boat
This is a must do trip in Nha Trang. There are other boats which tour the nearby islands but THIS IS THE PARTY BOAT. We had our first beer at 9.58am as we left Nha Trang Pier to the sound of Bob Marley and the music played, the alcohol flowed, yes, we had a bit of a dance on top of the boat and did lots of jumping off the boat and mucking about in the water all day. Parents – don’t worry we didn’t have too much beer, honest.
After lunch one of our guides Phong, jumped into the water with his floating bar. We all jumped in after him and bobbed about on rubber rings while he dished out bottles and bottles of Vietnamese Mulberry Wine which tastes a bit like port. It’s actually not that bad and the taste improves the more you have. Aswell as all the fun we had I should say that the islands were beautiful, the weather was glorious and we got to see a floating fish farm.
You can’t spend long in Vietnam without hearing the phrase “Same Same, but Different” – it applies to everything. From being given a different anti-biotic to the one on the prescription, to being shown a hotel room that isn’t the one you will be staying in. It also gets used when you are booking a trip: as in “Is that a picture of the bus we will be travelling on?” (nice picture of big air-con bus), trip vendor: “Same same, but differnt” which means we’ll be on a rickety old heap of a Vietnamese micro-bus…. Often just abbreviated to “same same” – it generally means you’ll never quite get what you expected (or were told you were getting!). The cafe whose sign is pictured above was one of many places named after the phrase: and it’s not just Vietnam, we’ve now come across the phrase in Cambodia and Thailand!
Last Night Out
For our last night out in Nha Trang the four of us had arranged to meet up with Amanda in Shorty’s bar for some beer and food. So we’d all gone to use the ‘net for a while to sort out our e-mails and stuff, and I’d finished so headed over to Shorty’s.
So, a man walks into a bar….
And the standard punchline is “Ouch!”, well the same line occurs here, but it takes a bit longer and happens six times.
I got to the bar, sat down and ordered a drink. After 10 minutes or so the girls arrive, and we all order some food. As we are waiting for the food to arrive, I feel a sharp pain in my toe. After taking a look at my foot I realised that it was more than someone just knocking me with their foot – I was bleeding from the toe. I went to clean it up in the toilets, and went and sat back down where we tried to work out what had caused it. At first we thought that maybe it was a bit of loose wood on the benches I’d snagged, but then something scuttled over our feet – something small and fairly hefty. We then noticed and almost cartoon like rat hole in one of the benches….
The theory that it was a rat that had bitten me started to look increasingly likely. So what do you do when bitten by a rat in Vietnam?? Not having a working copy of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy with us, but remembering that the cover just says Don’t Panic! we calmly asked the bar owner (a Brit) if he had any iodine or something else to clean my toe with. Nothing. He didn’t have any medical kit, and didn’t care either that someone had been bitten in his bar. It wasn’t like there were any other customers in the place to be scared off either.
After some debate, I went back to the internet cafe to see if I could find anything useful there – a quick search came up with nothing. So we decided to go back to the hotel and try and contact a doctor, and if that didn’t work head over to the hospital. When we got back to the hotel the receptionist, Anh, tried to contact a doctor for us, but the Doctor didn’t speak much English, and our Vietnamese is very limited! We were starting to think about just heading to the hospital when Jo remembered that the bar across the road was run by a French woman and wondered if she could help. Our luck was in – in the bar the French owner was very helpful, and she had a French friend with her who was a Red Cross Doctor – very convenient. The two of them called a Vietnamese Doctor, and came over to see me in the hotel. Once Danielle (the Red Cross Dr.) understood what had happened she got a worried look and started pacing around until the Vietnamese Dr. arrived. Once he understood what had happened it was straight into a taxi and to the hospital for us…
The hospital was grim. Very grim. Imagine M*A*S*H when they are having a bad day, and then take away the sanitising effect of US TV. Then make it worse. Danielle warned us against leaning on the walls in reception (the walls were bad – concrete re-inforcing bar showing through in most places, and pretty filthy), and after a short wait we were lead to a private room through what must have been the casualty ward, where 20 or more people were in a small area all in various stages of distress with doctors and nurses rushing about carrying trays with instruments, and dressings (new and used, very used) on them. Fortunately we weren’t in there for more than a few seconds, but it was enough. The room we were taken to was OK, it had at least had a new coat of paint sometime in the last few years, and the walls looked solid. Probably the best room in the building. The staff were all imacculately dressed tho’ – all very clean and professional looking and we were seen very quickly. After a quick inspection by a hospital doctor, I was given a rabies shot, charged US$1, and left. We went back to the hotel where Danielle and Dr. Dao (the Vietnamese Dr. Danielle had called) dressed my toe and left, promising to return in the morning.
By now it was about 11pm, and we were pretty shattered (and sober – amazing how a hospital visit clears the mind), so just crashed out. In the morning Danielle and Dr. Dao came back and re-dressed the toe, and prescribed some anti-biotics for me. Total cost for two house visits within 12 hours – US$7 – try getting that back home!
We were told that I only needed the one injection, but everything we found out said I needed a course of five or more jabs, so when we got to Ho Chi Minh I went and saw another Dr. (again French – it seems the French colonial rule of Vietnam has lead to most of the medical staff being French trained, and there are a lot of French clinics). Dr. Pin was so typically French it was almost amusing, but the smirks disappeared when she said I needed a course of four more jabs over the next three months. One there and then, two more over the next three weeks and the final one three months after the bite. So a tour of South East Asia’s medical facilities has been added to our itinerary.
So far there seem to be no ill effects from the bite, a full moon has passed and there was no urge to howl, but I do have a craving for running around in a small plastic wheel……
After the “excitement” of our last night in Nha Trang we got the train on Saturday night and headed to Ho Chi Minh City (previously Saigon).