On the advice of our friends from the Halong Bay trip, we kicked off our second week in Vietnam in Nha Trang. It is a city just over halfway down the coast of Vietnam with a party reputation and a huge host of sights and activities to fill your time. Sometimes cities tend to embody the same vibe and while there are countless restaurants, bars, cafes and shops to choose from, when you don't fancy lounging in your hotel or guesthouse it is difficult to find places where you can fully chill out for the day without constantly ordering food and drink.
As the long stretch of beach along Nha Trang was the first we had seen since our stint on the Southern islands of Thailand, we relished the idea of spending a few days laying in the sunshine buried in our neglected novels. Upon checking into 'Golden Hotel'
and glancing at a map of the city however, we were struck with excitement at just how much there was to do and slightly disheartened by the fact that we had only a mere three days to spend there. Nevertheless, the sand was still calling our names and for our
first morning we donned our bikinis and sat on the beach looking out at the neighbouring islands and soaking up some sunshine. We decided that afternoon that some pampering was in order and so headed to the rather exotic mineral mud spa and natural hot water spring. I'm not entirely sure how good Vietnamese mud from 100 metres below the ground actually is for your health but squelching around like pigs in a troph full of slimy, smelly mud is one of the funnest things I can envisage. That's not sarcasm, we were genuinely in our element. Once we were sufficiently bathed, we proceeded to the natural hot water pool and left revitalised and glowing with health. Wine had been fairly scarce or too imported/ expensive for us so far on our trip so you can imagine our delight at the array on offer in Nha Trang. We celebrated our arrival with a bottle of cheap Chardonnay on our balcony, extremely excited for what we had planned the next day.
The following day was one of our best on the trip so far. Vin Pearl theme park it is not just a theme park but also a water park/beach
which in my opinion is an absolute dream. You don't arrive by boat either. You get into a cable car which carries you above the sea for around 15 minutes and straight into the island which is a pretty decent ride in itself. The rides and the water slides were so much fun but one of the best parts is that unlike any other park, absolutely everything (food being the only exception) is included in your $20 ticket. The cable car, a big aquarium, theme park, water park (watch out for the black hole- it gave us all minor concussion) 4D cinemas and best of all a huge arcade with everything from dodgems to bucking broncos to every type of shooting and racing game going. As three very competitive girls, it all got taken very seriously. We finished with an hour relaxing on the white sand of the Vin Pearl beach before heading back to the mainland for a delicious meal at 'Lemongrass Restaurant'
That evening turned very messy. At this point we were all at the height of our malarone intake. Anybody who has taken this particular type of malaria medication may understand how sensitive it makes you
to pretty much every substance in life. By substance I'm implying nothing stronger than coffee, alcohol or just food in general and while three vodkas at home might just get you a little jolly, on malarone it seems to make the difference between stone cold sober and paralytic. Needless to say, a good few hours spent in 'Why Not Bar'
and 'Booze Cruise Bar'
with shisha and jungle jam jars got the better of us and my memory is limited to making friends with a boy strongly resembling Sideshow Bob and dancing in the street while waiting for a midnight snack of salami sandwiches. Another thing about the malarone: THE HANGOVERS!!!!!
So incredibly brutal. The only manageable activity for our final day in Nha Trang was to lay very still in the beach, deep breathing and trying to dismiss our burning skin.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the early hours of the next morning on a night train and after a fairly tricky accommodation hunt we settled on 'Duna Hotel'
which was relatively shabby but in a good location on Pham Ngu Lao. The following day we took a trip to the Mekong delta and
got a tour of the Dragon, Phoenix, Unicorn and Turtle islands which produce such goods as coconut candy, honey and of course rice. Our favourite part of the trip was being rowed through the thin, veiny rivers encased in greenery in a small rowing boat. I made friends with the old Vietnamese man rowing at the back and realised only afterwards that his leg was made from rotting wood, plastered together with pieces of scrap metal. It is very difficult to get a good sense of what a country will be like before you actually experience it and it's often completely contradicts your expectations but this little boat ride hit the closest to my preconceptions of Vietnam.
Our last day before moving on to Cambodia and we visited the Cu Chi tunnels; an underground maze accessible only on hands and knees which was use by the Vietnamese in the 'Nam War. It was an extremely eye opening experience as we were told solemn stories of the war, demonstrations of the traps and most hard-hitting of all were our tour guide's personal accounts of his own involvement fighting in the war. At times his passion was terrifying but also very
affecting and a potent way to learn about such a crucial time in Vietnam's history that could not be derived from a book. The final stop on our tour and we were presented with the opportunity to buy some bullets and head to the firing range. I won't lie, firing an AK-47 in Vietnam was nothing short of exhiliarating and we all ended our trip on a high.
Vietnam was a definite highlight of our trip. Writing this now I realise how much we saw and how much more understanding I now have about a country I previously knew very little about. Unlike Thailand and Laos, the religious culture is not so prominent. You are not surrounded by Buddhist monks or temples and while I would agree that it is probably more modern, the history of the country can be felt everywhere. Overall, it is a place of awesome beauty and being a part of it was thoroughly unforgettable.
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