Not Really a Blog

March 26, 2012

Experiencing Nha Trang

Filed under: Nha Trang, Places, Travel, Vietnam — Tags: , , , , — jesus @ 12:00

We arrived to Nha Trang after a bit of a horrible train trip. I was travelling with Marielle, a swedish girl I met in Hanoi who I met again in Hoi An. We were going in the same direction and so we decided to have the same itinerary to make our trip more fun. We decided to take the train because it’s way more confortable than using the bus and we both had had pleasant rides on trains in Vietnam before. It turned out this train trip was going to be a bit different.

We had to go back up north to Danang as there is no train station in Hoi An, so we could catch the night train to Nha Trang. Air Conditioned cabin, upper berths. Sounded like a good plan. But when we jumped on the train we discovered that there wasn’t much of AC. Instead there was some air coming from the ceiling but that didn’t make things easier. Plus, the beds were not that clean, and there were some bugs crawling around. Yay!!! On the lower berth there was a woman with a little kid who was crying all the time and a woman who was totally wrapped up in winter clothes and covered by a blanket!!! And we were sweating the moment we got in. This was going to be fun.

So, we tried to sleep. I think I slept some. I don’t know, I only recall being like feeling like I was under the influence. Half asleep, half awake, feeling how sweat drops were all around. Not a nice ride at all, so when the first daylight rays got through the window, I got up and got out of the cabin. Don’t know how I survived there, really :-)


But, the train was going down south along the coast while the sun was rising and I was able to see an amazing sunrise, so I went to take some pictures:

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 8

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 9

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 11

Coming back to the cabin, we actually discovered that the kid downstairs was really cute and sweet :-)

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 14
Marielle and the kid

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 21
This is the kid posing while I took the photo

From Hoi An to Nha Trang 22
Just Cute

So we arrived at 08:00 to Nha Trang. Nha Trang is a very touristy city in Vietnam, famous for its beaches. Reminded me of Benidorm in a way. Full with russians and having a not so good reputation towards tourists who come here. We read somewhere (I think it was on wikitravel) that it was full with kamikaze hookers. You know, girls/hookers who come harassing you after you exit a club and then they hug you while they empty your pockets of valuables!!! We didn’t see any of this, to be honest.

A note on wikitravel. Don’t believe everything that’s put in it. I have the impression that, being a collaborative effort, it’s kind of full of generalizations made by people who had a bad experience and they write it down to make it look as if that’s a common event. Also, I’d say the same thing about the lonely planet guides too. Some common sense thinking needs to applied here :-)

Anyway, as we arrived in Nha Trang so early, our hostel room were not ready. So we left our stuff at the hostel and went straight to the beach for a swim, just because we needed to remove all that night sweat from us! And it was warm. First place that we could call summer. And it was very very welcomed. Getting rid of all of our winter stuff was a relief!

Nha Trang 1
Nha Trang Beach

There we met Brad, a cool dude from the USA who was travelling across South East Asia too. And was into photography as well (Check out his flickr stream)

Nha Trang 2

Nha Trang is full of water sports. Diving, boat parasailing (I don’t know how this is called in English, really), water skiing, etc. We just took it easy and enjoyed a tour on a boat that would take us to a few islands. I also did some diving which was really good as I hadn’t been diving for many years. The water wasn’t very clear but it was not the best time of the year to go diving anyway.

Nha Trang 36
Off you go girls

Nha Trang 8

Nha Trang 10

Nha Trang 15

Boat ropes
Boat Ropes

Jumping III
This was FUN! :-)

Brad and his faces II
Brad had amazing faces!!

Nha Trang 27
The Lady Boy moment

The barman
He ended up being our bar tender in the water!

Now the funny anecdote in Nha Trang. This is possibly a good summary of Vietnam, in my opinion. So we went to this place to have dinner. Apparently good. It was like 10 of us, more or less. They had a variety of different dishes, european and Vietnamese cuisine, so, oriented for tourists. I ordered, if I recall correctly, chicken with lemongrass. There was a girl who ordered chicken with curry or something similar. Now, what happened is that this girl got served a dish which she didn’t know what it was. On asking they said it was the chicken curry so she started eating it. 5 minutes later, they arrived with another dish with chicken and they said chicken curry. Hang on a minute, chicken curry again? This can’t be, what am I eating here?

So, as it happens, she was given my chicken with lemongrass which she eat half of it when the proper chicken curry dish came. Argument for a while, trying to decide whose fault it was and trying to get another chicken with lemongrass for me (I needed to eat it anyway). Them saying that it was not their fault (despite saying at the beginning that was the curry dish). Anyway, this girl asked them to get another chicken with lemongrass for me and pay for it. Fair enough, we were not going to ruin the night for a few dollars.

Now, 5 minutes later these guys come to me and they bring me a dish and say: Here’s your chicken with lemongrass. Thanks!. I look at it and I don’t see any lemongrass in it, just chicken with pineapple. So I call the guy to take it back as they’ve given me the wrong dish. They apologize and they take it back. Ok then. 5 minutes later they come again and they put a dish in front of me. I look at it and it’s the same pineapple chicken dish. What the hell? Now I call them again, a bit angry, and look at the logic of the conversation:

Sorry, this is not the chicken with lemongrass I’m waiting for.

Yeah, but if I take it back then I will have to pay it with my money.

Well, that’s not my problem. I ordered chicken with lemongrass, no? so you guys have made a mistake.

No no, you pay for it.

Excuse me, I don’t want this, why would I have to pay for something I haven’t ordered? I want chicken with lemongrass.

But I can’t pay for it. It’s not my fault.

It’s not your fault? So whose fault it is?

etc etc.

I don’t like you, and I don’t like this restaurant.

So, I’ve seen this a bit too much. In the end it was all a good laugh, but I had to eat the frikking pineapple chicken. It just that they didn’t even bother to apologize. They kept dealing with the issue as if it was our fault and they were not doing anything wrong.

But anyway, it gave us a few moments to have good laughs! :-)

Update: Thanks to Rishi for letting me know about parasailing.

February 24, 2012

Halong Bay

Who hasn’t heard of Halong Bay? Or who hasn’t seen a picture of Halong Bay? Well, I had, and I had felt fascinated by it, its ghostly waterscapes, so much that I wanted to visit it badly. Having seen amazing pictures on the internet had made my desire grow stronger. I just wanted to take my camera with me and shoot away at the amazing scenery, hoping to have great weather and perfect images, combined with a nice stay in the area.

Halong Bay 58
The place looks like this

As it happens the place is a tourist trap and for this and other reasons it was a bit disappointing. The weather wasn’t good at all,  with temperatures dropping to a maximum of 13 Celsius precisely the day I was going there, so enjoying Halong Bay in the typical way, standing on the top of a boat while you go around the thousand islands was no longer an attractive option. Also, being it a tourist trap, the place is overcrowded with boats targeting all sorts of tourists, from the party-alcohol-fuelled-goer to the more senior-citizen holiday kind of thing. Water is dirty on many spots due to the large amount of boats leaving diesel residue behind. If you add to it the possibility of drowning on one of these poorly maintained boats, then choosing whether to go or not is no longer a simple question.However, the place is fantastic, and deserves a lot of praise regardless of its shortcomings. So I went!

Cold Halong Bay
It was this cold

Upon arriving to the main dock you realise how big this tourist trap is, seeing hundreds of boats coming and go, buses loading and unloading tourists without stop. And, all of this during off-season. I can’t really imagine what this must look during the peak season. Shortly after arriving you aboard a small boat that takes you to the main pirate boat, one of those that has a resemblance with the typical Chinese junk-style boats (mind you, they are just modern boats).

Halong Bay 1
Tourist Trap Alert

Halong Bay 70

You usually get to one of these boats using a travel agency in Hanoi who offers you a tour/package in Halong Bay, where you can choose whether to stay one or two nights being the second night on an island or again on the same boat. There are prices for everyone, but everywhere you search on the internet (and on the lonely planet guides) it recommends not being tight with your money as getting one of the $50 dollar-mark tours can very well leave you on a boat infested with rats and cockroaches, and a horrid experience to remember. From there you can go up to more than $400 for just 2 nights although most tourists settle for something around $130, which is fair enough for the amount of staff you get (apart from accommodation, you get food and transport, but not drinks). Some tips to book Halong Bay tours here.

Halong Bay 49
You will be in a boat like this

Mine was called Party Boat and despite what our agent had sworn (no party, it’s just the name) there was some party. Mainly because all of these tours are led by a guide who’s not only a guide but also someone responsible of making everyone have fun, which on a boat called party boat involves putting loud music and trying to get everyone to dance and sing all the time. I guess that you know the type.

The party boat
Halong Party Boat :-/

However, as the weather was not that nice and the bunch of people aboard were closer to 30 than to 20, most of our guide’s efforts were futile. Good. Except there was a fairly large group of young Australians during the first day who were generally nice, but there were two dudes in this group who wanted to make a career at annoying people. They decided they wanted to piss everyone off and so they did put the karaoke system on full power late at night, trying to sing every song in the most ridiculous and stupid way, screaming and yelling and generally trying to keep everyone awake while they were getting high on booze. To make you an idea, they even tried to sing Dido’s Here with me. I was considering the option of making them walk the plank into the sharks…cold water. I survived that and learnt a couple of card games from fellow travellers!

Anyway, apart from these two, we were a nice group. A couple from the UK who just got married (Amy, Mike and their friend Sally), another couple from England and Germany (Laura and Dennis) and a few other made the group we were in. And we had fun in this group :)

Halong Bay 36
Amy and Sally

Halong Bay 41

Halong Bay 27
Dennis and Laura

And Jeremy, our tour guide (Jeremy was his chosen western name). He was trying desperately to rock us (come on, party party) while we had cold-stone faces (What are you doing dude?). I think he felt really frustrated that we were not responding.

Halong Bay 4
This is not Jeremy, though! :-)

But hey, it was frikking cold outside and he wanted us to party on the boat, play sports on the beach and get ourselves wet in the freezing water, as if it was summer. No exception ;-) Funny though.

Halong Bay 25
He managed to convince Mike to play football

Mike, cold
But later he was recovering like this

I chose the two nights/three days tour. It’s the right amount of time, methinks. If it were not because I had to use three blankets at night to keep myself warm in bed ;-).

You typically stay on the boat while they wander around taking you to nice spots and cool beaches, mixed with activities like hiking the hill on one of these island, playing beach football or kayaking.

Halong Bay 21
Hike to the top

Halong Bay 44
kayaking if you wanted to get your ass wet

Halong Bay 23
This would have been so nice being warm and having a mojito in my hand…

At the same time you are taken to floating villages, caves and pearl farms which makes the experience interesting.

A pearl

Halong Bay 33
A vendor on a boat

Halong Bay 65

Halong Bay 40
Did I say it was cold?

It was a shame that it was very cold, because the colour of the water invites you to jump in, no matter what time in the year it is. Watching the sunset and sunrise was magical nevertheless. Sure I didn’t see the sun (for three weeks) and couldn’t get the amazing colours you see on photos everywhere, but still the light seemed kind of magical. You just fantasize you are in a pirate boat and this is your little empire ;-)

Halong Bay 7

Anyway, Here there are a few photos I took in Halong Bay:

Halong Bay 28

Halong Bay 39
Decorated food

Halong Bay 37

Halong Bay 56
Supposedly squid fishing, but bullshit actually :-D

Halong Bay 57
Night shot

Crew member

Halong Bay 14
Your own private beach

Halong Bay 15

Halong Bay 8

Halong Bay 60

Halong Bay 53
Want to jump into the water

Halong Bay 29

Halong Bay, captivating, relaxing, awe-inspiring despite it being a tourist trap. I worry that the Vietnamese will convert this into a full-scale tourist-exploitation system and break the ecosystem and destroy nature here which is what attracts people here in the very first place.
I have to come again, spring time, or in warmer climates, for sure! :-)

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