Nha Trang, Vietnam
13 June, 2010

After getting up at 5.15 in Dalat, we were pretty keen for a sleep-in on our first day in Nha Trang. Our hotel’s architect had different ideas, designing our room with wall-to-wall French windows that faced east. I woke up at 6 am, groggy and exhuasted, with the rising sun easily blazing through the thin curtains and raising the temperature in our room by ten degrees. I shut the door Chris had left open overnight, which did virtually nothing to reduce the traffic noise, and then lay back down. Sleep was obviously impossible but I simply did not have the energy to get up and do anything.

At about eight o’clock I was driven by hunger to go find breakfast, eating at some cheap backpacker cafe that was the only place that was open. I tried a few other restaurants, who seemed olivious to the fact that people in Vietnam are up and about at dawn and might like some food. One waitress who was sweeping up actually jumped and shrieked when I walked in and said “Sin loi?” while her back was turned. They often seemed genuinely perplexed that I would come in and order food at eight am, even though they have a breakfast menu. Customer service is a bizarre enigma here.

Oh, and Nha Trang is another city that suffers from rolling blackouts. Get it together, Vietnam. Apparently it’s something to do with hydroelectric plants not having enough water at the end of the dry season, so they have to ration it. Jimmy was telling us that this is also done in Los Angeles, which boggles my mind. It’s frustrating enough in Vietnam; if it happened to me in a first-world country, I’d be rattling the gates of the fucking mayor’s house at the head of a furious mob.

I came back from breakfast to find Max in an angry mood because the hotel proprietor had dropped his bike while shifting it in the night, snapping the right foot peg clean off and breaking the brake lever. Chris had slept as poorly as I had. Overall, definitely the worst place I’ve yet stayed (although for $5 US, you get what you pay for).

We packed our shit, got our passports back and prepared to move to a better hotel just down the road, while Max argued with the proprietor about paying for the room. Eventually he got her to agree that it had been the hotel’s fault, and to cover the costs, he wouldn’t be paying for the room. The proprietor at our new hotel took him to a mechanic where he had the peg and brake lever welded back on for $3, so overall he actually made a profit of two dollars! For about two hours of effort.

The place we’re at now is nicer – it’s a windowless room, which means we’re insulated from the early morning traffic orchestra, and it has aircon, not to mention a much better bathroom. This is actually an amazingly innovative bathroom. They’ve come up with the simple yet effective concept of surrounding the shower with a plastic curtain, so that when you use it you don’t also soak the toilet, towel rack, basin and rest of the bathroom. This is, in my opinion, sheer genius, and I’m sure it will sweep through the rest of the world OH WAIT WE FIGURED THAT OUT A HUNDRED FUCKING YEARS AGO.

Anyway, for the last few days we’ve been lazing around in Nha Trang, which is very much a touristy Western beach town. We went to the mud baths and mineral spas; I was wary of the idea of paying money to sit in mud, but it actually did wonders for my skin. After six weeks living like a hobo in the tropical heat, I was starting to get a bit haggard.

 

We paid 100,000 dong ($6.66 AUD) to go on a snorkelling tour. We didn’t have particularly high hopes for this, since we hate being herded around onto tourist cattle boats and Thailand proved conclusively that the snorkelling in South-East Asia is rubbish. As we shuffled onto a minivan and then onto the boat, I was having very strong Thailand flashbacks. It was a bit sloppy, though. Thailand may be a monstrous tourist-processing machine, but at least it’s a well-oiled machine. Vietnam’s still learning the ropes.

Before we went snorkelling they took us to a thoroughly depressing aquarium. Huge amounts of marine life were crammed into tanks far too small for them, and the water was murky and disgusting. “There’s thirty turtles in that tank,” Chris said. “Take twenty-eight out.” One of the turtles was actually dead, decaying to a white colour and lying in the corner. The fact that they hadn’t bothered to fish it out says something about about how much they care.

 

The vast majority of tourists were Vietnamese, with a spattering of Chinese, Koreans and Japanese. I’m not the first person to make this observation, but Asian tourists don’t seem to care what they’re doing or seeing as long as they can take photos of each other. The ideal Japanese package tour would involve a trip to a professional photography studio. What bothered me was that most of them were taking photos of the kitschy fake mushrooms and stalactites and King Neptune’s throne, rather than the marine life. If you’re going to mistreat animals, at least utilise them.

 

Look at the desparation in this leopard shark’s eyes.

After the aquarium we were treated to some relatively nice coral snorkelling off the coast of an island, where Chris scratched his stomach on some coral and then slipped on rocks and smashed his head. I’ll keep you posted on whether he develops brain damage or not. Returning to the boat, we anchored off another island, where we ate lunch and then spent a few hours jumping off the boat and swimming around. This was actually the best part of the day – it was a two-storey boat, so it was about the same height as the jumping cliff back at Collie, and jumping into the water from a moderate height is always a simple, endless pleasure. At one point the crew cracked out an electric guitar and drums, and were playing music while we dove. Then they launched the floating bar, and our tour guide enthusiastically doled out free Dalat mulberry wine. “Fuckin’ minging!” he yelled out. “Free cheap shit vinegar piss wine!”

 

After that it was off to spend an hour lazing around on another beach, where I swam out to a floating platform with speedboats tied to it and inquired how much for us to have some fun on their banana boat (too much, as it turned out). After an hour there we headed back to the mainland, cutting across waves that regularly sprayed the bow of the boat. To avoid this, I clambered up onto the roof, and was quite happy there for about 5 minutes before the crew freaked out and stopped the boat and told me to get down. For a country that doesn’t seem to care about safety most of the time, I thought it odd that they’d get riled up about that.

 

Overall it was a pretty good day. Very touristy, but this is a tourist town. It also gave us something to do for the entire day while the power was off. The air-con in our room turned out to be completely useless, just putting out regular-temperature air, which wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t in a windowless box with no fan. So that marked three nights of not enough sleep.

We went out drinking that night, first playing pool at the Guava Bar, where we also chatted with a very friendly Ghanaian soccer player. Then we headed for the Red Apple Club, which I loathed since it was a club. It reminded me of the Queens Tavern back in Perth: it’s obviously not a club, since it doesn’t have a dance floor, yet it still plays shit music so loud that you can barely hear anyone talk. What the fuck is the point in that? You’re either a pub or a club. Make up your mind.

I realised I was very drunk at this point, because I hadn’t entirely sobered up from the afternoon’s free wine, and I’d had a few beers with dinner, and Abbey had given us each a Jaeger shot that messed up my calculation of how drunk I was getting. So I just kept buying big bottles of water from the street stalls. I think I downed about four litres before eventually going back to the hotel at one. We’d planned to watch England play Australia at that time, but we were all too tired, and in any case it turned out we weren’t playing each other at all; England was up against the USA and I think we’re playing Germany soon.

Soccer is a pretty boring sport, and I’m not the most patriotic person around, but for some reason I really sat up and paid attention during the last World Cup. I can’t stand watching a game of some local team versus another local team, but when it’s my nation-state versus another nation-state, somehow that makes me care a lot more and I can happily sit through the whole tedious ninety minutes.

I’m writing this at 11.00 at night and the power has just gone off, six hours ahead of schedule. It better fucking come back on. If we are stuck in this windowless concrete room with neither fan nor air conditioning, the gift of sleep will not come. We may very well die of sweat dehydration before sunrise. What is the point in having electricity at all if it turns off every second day? Sometimes more? Fucking hell.

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