I think my eyeballs are now sweating.
We’ve largely recovered from the Saigon Express Flu but have been a little glazed in our appreciation of the wonders of Nha Trang. The beach itself reminds us of Manly, a noble stretch of sand, but with tropical islands large and small dotting the horizon.
The Esplanade is lined with topiaried trees, little parks and lots of heavy duty exercise equipment which the Vietnamese (unlike the Thais and Cambodians) seem keen to leap onto at every opportunity, swivelling and swinging, huffing and puffing, gyrating and extending, curling and bending.
Nha Trang’s streets are similar to Ho Chi Minh – still the slippery-slide-slope of the gutters, still the uneven footpaths and crazy traffic, add open flaming braziers and electric wires (none-too-insulated) dangling from every post and tree and that amps up the excitement level when out for a stroll.
Gone are the concentrated garbage and drain smells replaced with a fermented fruit tang, incense, old-fashioned suntan oil, frangipanis, jasmine and a less pervasive durian stench.
There’s a great comedy routine that never fails to reduce the locals to tears. Bill & I will attempt a Vietnamese word or phrase. We’ll assiduously listen to the correct pronunciation. We’ll practice and practice it. Then we’ll go out and ask for, say a sandwich (bahn mi) and the locals will look at us as though we’re speaking in Klingon. They’ll call their mates over and waggle their eyebrows and ears and elbow each other.
We become uncomfortably aware that we may be suggesting that we’d quite like to take advantage of any goat they may have about their person.
Unfazed, We’ll repeat it. They’ll continue to look uncomprehending and bemused.
We’ll show them the word – act it out in mime, Marcel Marceau it to the max, unfortunately we never required a tug of war, a long glass wall, or a walk in a stiff breeze or we would have been set. Eventually, they’ll repeat our request ( to our ears exactly as we had) & then roll around, tears streaming down their cheeks.
Most menus for restaurants, massages, tours etc are printed in Vietnamese, English and Russian. Some are just in Russian.
Yes, the place is bursting at the seams with huge numbers of Ruskis, all of whom, (through, no doubt, no fault of their own and merely a restricted diet and a collective history of spine chilling mass murder on an unimaginable scale,) have the sorts of physiognomies and facial expressions that suggest that a bloody putsch is imminent.
We have never in all our puff and outside of the ghost train at the show or Madam Tussaud’s waxworks seen a more murderous and villainous looking bunch. We know this sounds like a shocking over reaction but assure you that, if anything, we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt.
A Russian tour guide oversees his group.
Happy holiday makers.
The mystery of the vast numbers of Borises and Svetlanas is solved when we discover that they need no visa or passport to come mingle with their Vietnamese comrades. Their comrades may be less than enthused at their presence but a dong is a dong…
Our little oasis of calm (oh yes, & good food) called Rainforest soothed us with a light Pho and a yellow dish poke for lunch. Rainforest is famous for its Pokes. Bowls with veggies, an interesting grain base (rice, couscous, pasta) with meat and sauce of your choice and a peanut sauce. Add to that the best coffee in town (unsweetened. Hallelujah), smoothies (well technically frappés they’re so light & fresh-fruit-filled,) and similarly delicious fresh fruit sodas.
Rainforest is like the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse, meandering on many levels, with stone steps in streams, swinging chairs, cubby houses, encircled by vines and crowded with plants that are misted on the hour and roofed with Gilligan’s Island thatches and towering stands of bamboo. It’s every kids dream playhouse which is why it appeals to grown ups.
We stumbled to the Long Son Pagoda in the noonday sun. It has a relaxed reclining Buddha up the first flight of the mountain.
Surrounded by the usual assortment of deities, ogres, Saints, sinners and small toy horses. then if you’re really serious you can drag yourselves up many,many,many more steps (152) to the smiling gigantic white Buddha on the hilltop. He is surrounded by bas-reliefs of flame-enclosed ascetic types that we presume are the immolated monk martyrs of the Indochina Wars.
We were glad to leave Nha Trang, too hi-rise, too overdeveloped, too seedy…and did we mention there were one or two grumpy, cheerless, gauche, blustering, loud, obnoxious, borderline threatening, dead eyed Russians there who treated the Vietnamese appallingly? Despite our gladness it was with some misgivings that we boarded the Hahn Cafe Sleeper Bus to Hoi An.
We had a friendly mix of Brit, American, German youngsters with whom we shared horror stories of Asian travel, establishing our street cred. Together we side-eyed each other in a spirit of fraternity when our bus driver had a tantrum with our luggage. Though a tad nervous after his performance it turned out fortuitously that he was a careful driver. The happier replacement driver turned out to be the kamikaze pilot…
But tweren’t too bad. 11 hours in a capsule style reclining bed/seat, just a tad shorter than our height, gently swaying along the South China Sea Coast, our lullaby the honking of the horn every 12.5 seconds and our fellow travellers mobile phones going off all night. Even the midnight comfort break didn’t seem too much like a nightmare.
Still, we survived, and arrived at beautiful, glorious stylish Hoi An.