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La Cookaracha! La Cookaracha! Nanananana 'Nam....

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Did you know that much of the Vietnamese language has a French influence, and that modern Vietnamese writing uses the Roman alphabet? This has been a bit of a relief for us, because now we can kind of tell what is going on around us, as opposed to the cryptic Thai and Khmer symbols we were used to seeing everywhere. But it also has it’s downsides too – sometimes we learn things that we don’t want to know.

Case in point: we were sitting in a very local restaurant that our bus from Mui Ne to Nha Trang had dropped us off at for a quick lunch break. Scott was a bit hungry, but there was no English to be had. So we looked at the sign, and most of it said “chien.” Now, in French chien means dog. Scott was hungry. Hungry enough to eat dog? I guess so, because he ordered something…and it looked like a pork chop…but we couldn’t really tell. Relief came in the form of our iPhone’s trusty little phrase book that enlightened us to the fact that chien actually means fried. Phew.

We arrived in Nha Trang that night and tried to walk to a Lonely Planet recommended guest house, only to be followed and continually hassled by a motorcycle driver trying to get us to go to “his” guest house. This ensued for about five blocks, so we finally decided to indulge the poor fellow. The place was called “Good Hotel” and it seemed pretty “good” – the room was a mere $7 a night, was spacious, had a/c and hot water, and the staff were friendly. We hunkered down for the night, thinking we had it pretty sweet.

Lost in Translation

We headed off bright and early to the train station in Nha Trang to book a ticket to Hoi An. We’ve read that most travel agents will scam you by charging you the extra rate for a soft sleeper, but will actually book you into a hard sleeper. The only way to avoid this is to go to the train station yourself, but you must go early, as all the travel agents book the seats in block way ahead of time. We got there at 12:30, which was apparently lunch and were refused service…even though they seemed to be opening the wicket and helping local Vietnamese. Ah, the joys of being a white person.

The Cham towers in Nha Trang

The Cham towers in Nha Trang

We decided to head off to the mud baths – a true delight of Nha Trang. But, where are the motorcycle taxis when you need them?! Normally, one beckons you every few meters or so, but now that we actually NEEDED one, we walked blocks before we had to physically stop and try to flag a random guy down. We decided to go à-la-Vietnamese – sans helmet and all on the same bike: driver in front, Scott in the middle, me on the back. I felt like a true local.

The driver dropped us off and we walked to the ticket booth, trying to get tickets to the mud bath. Apparently, we had been brought to the Cham Towers instead…I guess the motorcycle guy didn’t understand us correctly. Viewing it as a blessing in disguise, we decided to tour the towers for a bit and then head off to the mud baths. The Cham Towers were built by the Cham people, Hindus from the 15th century. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wearing my temple attire, so my shorts were too short and my shoulders were showing… so I just hung around outside while Scott explored.

The Nha Trang Mud Baths – a Good Time for All!

Mudbaths!

Mudbaths!

We didn’t have any problems finding a motorcycle driver to take us up the hill to the mud baths and two pretty funny fellows convinced us they were the best and would be our chauffeurs for the afternoon. They told us it wasn’t safe to ride three to a bike – we thought this was funny, because everyone here does that. They were even going to wait for us and take us back home!

At the mud baths, for just $5, you could spend an afternoon having some good, clean fun. After eating a pool-side pizza, we headed over to the first phase of the mud bath experience, were we took a very nice three minute shower in mineral water. The water felt divine and made my skin and hair feel lovely. Next, we were ushered into our own little mud bath, where we were supposed to soak for 15 minutes. This place was really funny – it looked like they had taken the natural Turkish hot pools and tried to design something like it…there were baths of varying sizes for different sized groups all around us. The baths were pretty quiet though – a bonus of travelling during the off-season.

Once we were done soaking, we were supposed to sit in the sun for 10 minutes to make the mud all crusty. Then, we were supposed to take a very cleansing high pressure mineral shower…only to be funneled to another side-jet shower. Finally, we were supposed to soak in a hot mineral bath for 30 to 45 minutes – a task easier said than done when it’s 35 degrees outside.

The visit was capped off with some time spent lounging in the mineral pools of varying temperatures and playing in an artificial waterfall. The mud baths were a great way to spend an afternoon on the cheap, and if you’re ever in Nha Trang, we highly recommend it!

Le Coq Au Vin avec un Cafard pour Désert!

We decided to splurge and settled on a French restaurant called “Le Petit Bistro” – where we ordered some delicious food and a few glasses of real Bordeaux wine….not the Dalat wine we’ve been drinking normally here for about $2/bottle!

We waddled home after dinner, but sleep was evasive as we were full and used to going to bed quite late. Not good – we had to be up at 6 a.m the next morning for a dive trip. At about 1 a.m., I rolled over and reached for the iPhone to do a bit of reading to quell my insomnia. I had gotten out of our bed and into the single bed next to us (we were in a bigger room because that was all that was available) and turned the iPhone on, when I heard Scott yell “Jesus!” and jump out of bed. I guess the light from the phone had illuminated a giant cockroach sitting on his arm – approximately 6.5 CENTIMETERS (happy Mr. Woods?) long. With hearts pounding, we quickly found one of our Glad containers that we have been carrying with us since NZ, and trapped him. He was really fast and started running laps in the container like mad. Scott took him out to the room across the hall, which was empty and had a balcony and tried to throw him off the edge, but he just flew back. Yes, for those of you who didn’t know, cockroaches also FLY. So he grabbed a broom, and killed it, in case it scuttled back to our room and back to our bed.

Needless to say, we slept all of maybe 3 hours that night since we were completely disturbed and went on our dive trip bleary eyed and disheveled.

Diving Nha Trang

Diving off Nha Trang

Diving off Nha Trang

We booked our dive trip with a company called “Rainbow Divers” for a mere $45 which included two dives, lunch and transportation. VERY cheap – we normally pay upwards of $100 for the same type of package anywhere in the world. We were a bit concerned that the diving wouldn’t be stellar for this price, but it turned out to be one of the most well-run dive trips we’ve ever been on! The quality of diving (visibility, things to see) wasn’t the most amazing, but we have to admit that we are pretty spoiled when it comes to this, having dove Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, Mexico and Costa Rica.

We got to dive with a Dive Master called Hoang, who has dove the sight thousands of times and knows it like the back of his hand. A fellow named Jens, a training DM also came with us, and it was just Scott and I – which was awesome. We saw a few things we had never seen before, including a leaf fish and a walking scorpion fish, and Hoang was really great at finding us really tiny little things (like shrimps and crabs) and letting us hold them. In between dives, we were given delicious sandwiches and fruit (we rarely get fed on these trips) and debriefed fully with Hoang on what we saw. One of the best parts of the dive was our equipment – it was all top notch and brand new, which makes diving even more pleasant. Overall, we would highly recommend diving in Nha Trang, and would strongly recommend using Rainbow Divers as the dive company.

Partying with the Locals

Jam jars with Erin and Leah, our friendly Canucks

Jam jars with Erin and Leah, our friendly Canucks

After a very long nap, we met up with two Canadian girls (Erin and Leah) that we had met on the dive trip for a few drinks. We were anxious to check out Nha Trang’s highly touted night life. We started off at a table at a bar in and alley and drank “jam jars” for $1 – Vietnam’s version of the Thai bucket. We traded travel stories with the girls and had a lovely time hanging out with fellow Canucks. It was fun!

We then decided to hit up the posh Sailing Club located on the beach. This place was niiiiice: beautiful tables and decor with a bar that opened right up onto the sand. We continued on with some jam jar drinks, and lo-and-behold, ended up sitting right next to the friends of one of the American guys who was on our dive trip earlier that day. Hanging out with the Americans re-confirmed why I am generally not a fan (my apologies to the LOVELY USA folks we HAVE met on this trip – you know who you are :) ). They were ridiculously drunk and being kind of rude…and when I called the dude on it he said “I am American. I can do whatever the f—k I want.” Ugh.

Partying with the local Vietnamese

Partying with the local Vietnamese

My favourite part of the night was that there were, in equal proportion (and if not more) Vietnamese locals ripping it up on the dance floor with us. They were having such a fun time and were so friendly and inviting to us. This was the first time in Asia we have partied with locals (aside from prostitutes hanging around at the Full Moon party in Thailand), and it really made my night. I think Vietnam has become one of our favourite places because the people here are so wonderful – definitely the friendliest we’ve come across so far. I think if the food was better, this might surpass Thailand for us.

The Worst Bus in Vietnam

We spent our last day in Nha Trang hanging out at the beach with the girls, doing not too much. We sampled for the first time a pomello – the reception lady at the hotel was eating one as we came downstairs and offered us some. It was like a giant orange…very tasty.

We had booked an overnight bus through the “Quang Hanh” bus company, because their sign said “we have highest quality sleeper bus” and because their buses did look the nicest from what we had seen driving around town. Unfortunately, looks are not what they seem.

The sleeper bus, with 3 rows of beds

The sleeper bus, with 3 rows of beds

At first, the sleeper bus was actually quite charming – it consisted of three rows of really tiny reclining bunk-beds (made for 5′4 Vietnamese people, but not too bad for Scott and I because we are pretty short). We had the best seats on the top row, and it was pretty comfortable! The bus also had a toilet – something which hasn’t actually been too common on our trips thus far. We settled into our seats and thought that the 11 hour ride to Hoi An wouldn’t be so bad. Boy, were we wrong.

The bus driver was a maniac, and made it very difficult to sleep. I was constantly awoken, pretty sure that he was breaking so hard that we were going to hit something and tip over. I even recall the breaks locking and the bus skidding. He also did not stop honking his horn the entire ride. And it was loud. I fell in and out of sleep, and at around midnight, felt the urge to use the toilet. Thank goodness there was one. I peered over the side of my bed, and apparently we had picked up A LOT of people along the way, because the aisles were packed full of bags, people and boxes. Thankfully, we were the closest seats to the toilet, so I was able to pick my way over sleeping people, only to arrive to a giant obstacle: a 30 kg box was lodged against the toilet door. I really had to go. What was I supposed to do? I spent about 10 minutes heaving the thing out of the way, only to have it balanced precariously in front of the door. If the bus made a sudden stop, I’d be trapped. I decided to wage my changes and use the toilet with the door slightly open, so the box wouldn’t trap me completely. It worked, and I exited the bathroom unscathed. While I was exiting, however, I swore I could hear a chicken balking. I figured I was crazy. I picked my way back to my top bunk, and the moment I got my bum settled back into my tiny bed made for a tiny Vietnamese person, the bus pulled over. We were making a potty stop. This would ONLY happen to me, of course. *sigh

The bloody box against the bathroom door

The bloody box against the bathroom door

As soon as they turned on the lights, all the rumpled people on the floor looked around at their surroundings…and everywhere the eye could see was littered with….just wait….COCKROACHES. Yes, our fun little friends still hadn’t left us. They were everywhere. Crawling on people, on our bags, on everything. Thank goodness I was in a top bunk. I still found two and killed them and it was gross. We got off the bus and realized we were the only non-Vietnamese on the bus. We had clearly booked the local person bus and not the tourist bus – there was a beautiful, bigger bus right next to us at the stop which all the tourists had appeared to be on. Nice.

At last our bus dropped us off in Hoi An. A guy woke us up at 6 a.m, telling us it was our stop. We climbed over all the people in the aisles, over the giant box blocking the bathroom, and had to make a tiny jump over a…you’d never believe this….CHICKEN. There WAS a chicken on the bus. I wasn’t crazy. It was hanging out on the stair to the exit, in a little holding case. Now, we can officially say we’ve been on a bus in Asia with a chicken. No wonder these people have problems with avian flu. Swine flu what? It’s the chickens that are everywhere!

We were deposited into a random street, our luggage was thrown out after us, and the bus pulled away. This didn’t look like Hoi An. Where were we? Oh, apparently 10 kilometers out of town, according to Scott’s GPS. We ended up hiring two motorbikes to take us into town, for the same price as our bloody bus ticket from Nha Trang. Our recommendation: DO NOT use Quang Hanh for any of your bus tours. They suck.

As motorbikes generally do, we were taken to a guest house of their choosing, even though we specified we just wanted to go to the central market and look for something on our own. We refused the first place, and made them take us to the market…upon where they took us to another hotel and demanded more money from us (most likely because we didn’t stay at the highest paying commission hotel). We were tired and frazzled, so we didn’t argue and just stayed at the hotel. It was called Huy Hoang I, and was actually in my Lonely Planet guide. The room seemed ok and it was cheap, so we hunkered down.

However, our fun with cockroaches was not finished. Scott saw one scuttle under the bed, so we asked reception for some spray. We sprayed the room down, left for a few hours, and when we came back, found two of them writhing on the floor. Fun. Furthermore, we saw a few babies (and really tiny babies – the size of flies) hanging out – surely there was a nest under our bed. Good times. Every time I go to sleep now, the “cookaracha” song plays in my head.

Hopefully our time with cockroaches is over, although I’m pretty sure that with over a month remaining in Asia, it’s not. We drowned our sorrows in Hoi An, nonetheless, with delicious food and custom clothing. You don’t even want to know what we spent. Stay tuned for the tales of tailor shops!

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