Sunday, June 13, 2010

Nha Trang - God Help Me If I Have To Eat Another Pringle Or Oreo Again!

To get from Hoi An to Dalat, Jenni and I took a 10 hour train that travelled during the day. Unfortunately there was no dining car that we were aware of and all we had to eat was Pringles and Oreos. These are the most common western foods you can find in Vietnam as pretty much every street seller stocks these in abundance. We would have loved to buy something else to eat, but after our little bout of Gastro in Sapa, we have not been game enough to try anything that we don't recognise. 

The train arrived around 9pm in Nha Trang and we jumped into a taxi to get to our hostel in the center of the beach area. Nha Trang has got the reputation of being a bit of a beach party town, very similar to Kuta in Bali, so Jenni and I had decided that we would forego staying at one of the nicer hotels and stay in a proper backpacker hostel so we could better experience the party life. Upon arrival, we discovered that one of the most popular night clubs / bars (the "Red Apple") is located on the first floor of our hostel, and to our delight the placing was JUMPING! The party had pretty much spilled from the bar onto the road, with tables all setup along the adjacent sidewalks, all packed with a crowd around the same age as us, drinking up a storm. One popular style of alcoholic beverage here in Vietnam, is the "bucket" which is basically a really large plastic jam jar or small bucket, measuring about 600ml that is filled with a combination of various liquors such as vodka and white rum, mixed with fruit juice or soda. Pretty much everyone at this place had one in their hand and there was plenty of empties on the tables. Having only Oreos and Pringles to eat for the entire day, we were ravenous, so we went to the restaurant at the back of the hostel for some food first, before cashing in our free drink upon arrival at the club. 

So far on our trip, we haven't been down to the beach for a swim, so the second day in Nha Trang was our first visit to the beach on our trip to do just that. Similar to Hoi An, the beaches in Nha Trang were nice, but not as nice and clean as the beaches in Australia. Unlike Hoi An, the beaches were a bit more crowded, so we didn't get pestered by too many people trying to sell us things. The water was a beautiful temperature and very refreshing. We spent most of the day lying on our deck chairs, under a straw umbrella while reading our books. That afternoon, we walked further along the beach to a beach-front restaurant and micro brewery called Louisianne. This place has a bakery, micro brewery, restaurant, pool and private beach area with deck chairs and straw umbrellas with security guards to shoo away the hawkers. To use all of their facilities, all you need to do is buy something small from the bakery or the bar. We purposefully did not bring much cash with us to the beach (in fear that the hawkers would pressure us into spending our money), so we didn't have too much to spend on lunch. We felt bad about mooching off the place while not spending too much money, so we only spent a short time there, but vowed to come back with more razoolie to make a day of it another day.

That evening we treated ourselves to a fancy barbecue seafood dinner. For about AUD $15 (that is VERY expensive for a meal in Vietnam), we were each served a plate about 1.5 foot in diameter. Filled with grilled squid, oysters, muscles, scallops, prawns and mini clams. Accompanying this enormous plate of barbecue seafood was a whole marinated fish each as well as a selection of dipping sauces, each sauce to be used with a specific seafood item on our plates. After dinner we decided to give the downstairs nightclub a miss as we were so full from dinner and we had already planned to get up early to go on a booze-filled island hopping tour the next day.

The island hopping tour that we booked had an itinerary that involved a lot of snorkeling, lounging on beaches drinking cocktails, visiting floating bars and generally drinking up a storm. We (along with the rest of the foreigners on our tour) were rather surprised to arrive at our tour boat to find it completely chokers with Vietnamese people of all ages. At first us and the other 8 foreigners were rather apprehensive as there were about 40 Vietnamese people on our boat, but as the day progressed, we all agreed that the day was a blast. Our guide was a rather interesting character, claiming at the start of the trip that he could sing songs from any country in the world. He wasted no time on the boat in treating the crowd to a hilarious rendition of Celine Dion's "My Heat Will Go On", re-enacting the famous scene from the movie "Titanic" while standing with his back to his audience at the front of the boat, arms held high and singing into his microphone with great passion.

Our first stop was Mieu island where we visited a walk through aquarium. Being spoilt by previously visiting fancy walk through aquariums such as AQWA in Perth and Ocean Park in Hong Kong, we weren't that impressed by the aquarium itself. However we were very impressed with the boat shaped structure that housed the aquarium. Later on, the boat anchored just off Mun island where we were invited to jump into the water and go "snorkelling on the extraordinary coral reefs which are covered with the multicoloured fishes" (taken right out of the itinerary - you've gotta love the bad English and incorrect spelling - although mine is probably not much better!). The coral reefs must have been really "extraordinary", as they must have somehow evolved to an evolutionary state where they can turn themselves completely invisible. The same goes for "the multicoloured fishes" because I could not see a damn thing anywhere! Jenni and I were amused to see that most of the Vietnamese people on our boat swam in the water while wearing life jackets. If you did that at Cottesloe beach and were not under th age of 4, I am pretty sure you would be the laughing stock of the beach. Disappointed with the snorkeling, the group of foreigners took the opportunity to float around in the water on inflatable tubes, while getting to know each other. In the group there was Shaun, an Aussie from central Queensland; Stella, Friederike, and Andy from Germany; Kim and Jill from Scotland; and Richard and Grace from England.

Now being on a first name basis, the rounds of Tiger beer started to get purchased and the alcohol consumption began. The boat anchored off the side of Mot island where all of the boat's bench seats had their backs folded down to create a large table. Here we were served a variety of dishes for lunch. While lunch was going on, two more boats filled with Vietnamese people anchored beside ours and the crewmen proceeded to rope all three boats together. All of us figured something funny was up when after the lunch dishes were cleared off the make-shift table, all of the people from the other boats pilled onto ours, with many people hanging off the sides to peer in. At this point, one of the crewmen of our boat emerged from his cabin to the top of the table and setup a homemade drum kit, constructed with a bamboo frame, plastic garbage bins of various sizes and a rusted tin garbage lid as a cymbal. He was joined on the "stage" by a fellow crewman who had an electric guitar as well as our guide and another crewman on the microphone. The crowd of about 80 people, all clapping, cheering and singing along was serenaded by this quartet to a couple of popular Vietnamese songs as well as one English song, "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes.

Our guide's previous statements about being able to sing songs from any country in the world all made sense as soon as he finished singing "What's Up" and called for one of the Australians to join him on the stage. As the crowd all cheered and Jenni cowered in the corner, I reluctantly stood up to represent the Aussies. Not to leave a fellow countryman in need, Shaun bravely stood up as well and joined me on the stage. As we both stood side by side to our guide, the crowd had a good laugh as both Shaun and I towered over him by about a foot. After a quick introduction of our names, Shaun the quick thinker claiming he was "Croc (Mick) Dundee", we joined our guide and his band in giving our best rendition of "Waltzing Matilda" by Banjo Patterson to the crowd of cheering Vietnamese. When it got to the second verse, Shaun and I looked at each other dumbfounded as we couldn't remember all of the words, all the while our guide singing strong. We finished up the song on the second chorus and both Shaun and I were given a loud applause by our crowd. Following the Aussies, Richard was called up to represent the English in a rendition of The Beatles', "Yellow Submarine", Stella and Fredreika were called up to sing a German song and Kim and Jill were called up to shake their booty and sing along to "La Bumba" (the guide couldn't think of an appropriate Scottish song, so figured that this would do).

After the "concert", everyone on the boat was in a good mood and the "floating bar" opened in the water, off the side of the boat. In true Vietnamese style, all this encompassed was one of the crewmen, floating around in the water on an inflatable tube, handing out plastic cups, filled with looked and tasted like homemade red port to everyone that cared to jump into the water. It was great fun! After clambering back onto the boat from the floating bar, the boats all departed their separate ways. We anchored off Tranh island where we were invited to go onto the beach for a "fruit party". Our group didn't feel the need to pay the USD $1 entrance fee to the beach and elected to stay aboard the boat, drinking, playing cards and chatting. We arrived back in Nha Trang in the late afternoon and all agreed to meet up for a night out at Shaun's fancy pants Novatel hotel room that evening. 

The whole group rocked up to Shaun's Novatel room in the early evening, after having a quick break from the boozing and having a much desired shower and rest. We all had plenty of drinks, pizza and nibblies before taking to the streets to find a club / pub to settle at for the rest of the evening. Shaun, Fredreika and Stella suggested a place they had visited the previous night called The Sailing Club. The Sailing Club was on the beach, only a few hundred metres down from Louisanne were Jenni and I had visited the previous day. Upon arrival, the English manager recognized Shaun as "that rowdy Australian guy from the night before", but had a laugh about it and kindly escorted our group to one of the VIP reserved tables, located right beside the beach. The place was packed with people, with tables spanning from the bar all the way from the club onto the sand on the beach where a bon-fire was roaring. Glad to have an audience, the manger all told us about how he had started off as a backpacker passing through the area and had ended up working at The Sailing Club as a fire dancer and eventually the manager. He then joined us for a round of shots on the house. The rest of the night involved plenty of beer, cocktails, dancing and generally having a good time hanging around.

On our last day in Nha Trang, we awoke rather late in the morning to a roasting room (the air-con had switched off a few hours earlier as, like Hue and Hoi An, Nha Trang has to endure rolling blackouts on a regular basis). Fortunately, we were both sensible enough the previous night to drink plenty of water and pace our drinks at the club and managed to avoid a hangover. We spent the day at Loiusianne where we enjoyed a nice lunch, followed by drinks by the side of the pool (we actually brought a reasonable amount of money with us this time). Jenni had a massage while I had a swim in the pool. I tried a pint of the micro brewery's pilsner, but it tasted rubbish. If it wasn't so bad, I might have been inclined to try some of the other beers on offer, such as the passion fruit pale ale.  

That evening, Jenni and I met up with Richard and Grace for dinner, which we had organised the night before. The four of us had a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant and after went for a drink at the Why Not Bar. We all enjoyed cheap drinks until 11pm, were treated to a free round of shots upon arrival and all given another free drink an hour later. The owners of the bar were determined to get as much alcohol into us as possible, even to the point where the bar staff refused to allow Jenni to cash in her free vodka and lemonade, for a lemonade with no vodka. In the end, we just payed for a lemonade and Richard and I tipped half a glass each of the free lemonade and vodka into our Why Not Buckets. Over the course of the two nights out, we had all discovered that we shared a similar taste in music, Jenni and Richard were both Harry Potter mad and we all had plenty of stories to share about our previous travels. As the night drew to a close, Jenni and Richard quizzed each other on Harry Potter trivia and a random drunk guy felt the need to entertain his friends by rubbing his bare hairy arse cheeks up and down the window that we were all sitting beside. Aside from copping an eye-full, all in all it was a really good night out.

The following day Jenni and I checked out of our hotel and jumped onto a bus to take us to Dalat. Pretty much every traveller has some story about being on a bus that broke down halfway to its destination and this time it was our turn. Our bus stalled and wouldn't move while attempting to turn a tight corner in one of the small towns about halfway to Dalat. All of the guys had to jump out of the bus and push it backwards, out of the way of the intersection which it was blocking. Fortunately we were only stranded for about 20 minutes, before the driver managed to get it going again after having a tinker with the engine.

We have now arrived in Dalat, the place where we will be for the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. I can't wait!

COMMON THE AUSSIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DO IT FOR YOUR COUNTRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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