Hello, What’s Your Name?
A three week adventure around Vietnam.
The first three hours of our twelve hour train ride to Nha Trang was stunning as it snaked its way along the coast of the China Sea. It was also the quietest of the trip as Niki was horrified into silence by the demanding conditions of our carriage. I on the other hand thought the rough and ready approach the Vietnamese had was great and was more than happy to risk my life eating poorly handled chicken and holding on for dear life in a room that resembled something similar to a bathroom thirty years ago. Nic and I were heading for the sea side town of Nha Trang via Danang (jump off here for bus connections to Hoi An) which was a solid twelve hours by train from Hue to catch up with a good mate of ours who had spent the last three months working as a promotional rep. Or at least that is the story we are meant to tell the world, the real story involves espionage, foreign relations and pick pocketing hookers – that’s another story though.
Rule No. 13 of being married – Never lie to your wife about the condition of a train to lure her onto it. She will find out that there is no such thing as tourist class, limited food options and that the bathroom is simply a hole in the floor – this making the next 12 hours on the train a little awkward.
After passing along the coast, the train veered inland past many rural towns, small commercial hubs and remarkable landscapes. Images from the puppet show in Hanoi were coming to life as I saw many people working off the land. Every time we pulled into a town, our windows became the centre of attention as beggars tried to find a way to get by. It was hard and I felt arrogant, but I couldn’t support them. The look in the hungry children’s eyes was gut wrenching and as the conductor “shooed” them off, I thought there had to be a better way to help these people without just handing money out?
Arriving into Nha Trang at about 8 .30pm, we headed to the second best hotel we stayed at in Vietnam, Ha Van Hotel. Excellent location, great service, the best breakfast and polished rooms with no cockroaches! Nha Trang had an instant feel of a tourist town similar to those the British loved to visit in Spain or Greece; full of pubs, British breakfast cafes, Italian restaurants and a slightly naughty night scene. Grabbing a bite at a local restaurant that I can’t remember the name of, so its food must not of been any good, I just happen to see my mate walking down the street chasing some women to whoo to his bar – Guava. For the sake of confidentially lets call my mate Hot Dog. My mate hails from the land of the his majesty the queen, but don’t hold that against him. Hot Dog was one of those guys that everyone lovs and was always up for a drink and a good time – I could see why he found himself in Nha Trang. After having a quick chat and arranging to meet up the next day, we headed back to the hotel for some well needed sleep.
Waking up to our one and only full day in Nha Trang, we strolled around this relaxed town. Nha Trang is all about the diving , so physical attractions were on the low side. Realizing this, Niki and I decided to head down to the main beach. Unlike the beautiful beaches of Hoi An, Nha Trang’s were cluttered with rubbish, mass development, noisy speed boats and slightly polluted waters. Not to mention a great Hollywood like sign construction on an island in a distance. It had seemed all the major tourism players like the Sheraton and Novotel had come to town and were exploiting Nha Trang for its full potential.
That night we grabbed a bite to eat at Lanterns, a local restaurant that supports an orphanage in the area. The food was good and atmosphere was predominantly American. Catching up with Hot Dog after dinner, we headed off to pub crawl the town. There are three main bars to hang out in Nha Trang. The first being the Red Apple Club, a backpacker haven with cheap beverages and a no mercy approach to drinking everyone under the table. The second residing on the beach is the Sailing Club, which is an institution in Nha Trang. It has a funky Asian vibe with slightly over polished décor; any local mafia wouldn’t look out of place here. The final and my personal favourite, which just happened to be the place Hot Dog was working, was Guava. A groovy lounge bar with live bands, good priced drinks and a wicked atmosphere. It’s easy to crawl between them following the vibe and the Sailing Club is open to the early hours of the morning.
Nha Trang definitely has a grungy party town vibe to it, however it is a little more blatantly commercial than other parts of Vietnam. If you’re in for a laugh though, Nha Trang can provide and as Hot Dog so expertly put it – “when you stumbling home at night and a prostitute comes up to you and grabs your “Johnson” for no apparent reason, hold onto your money and just keep walking…hopefully she’ll let go”.