Blog // Tales from the trail

19 Aug
2015

Beach, booze and beer-bellies, Vietnam

By Keith

"WAKEUP! NHA TRANG! Getoffgetoffgetoffgetoffgetoffgetoff! Wakeupwakeupwakeupgetoff! GETOFFNOW...!!!" as our bus screeched to a halt - following a late departure and number of random stops en route, apparently now on our arrival at 7am the schedule had become an issue.

Despite the rapid ejection, it was also refreshing to be greeted by the early morning sunshine; particularly as a pleasant looking hotel terrace was just opening up for the day, serving up punchy fresh ice coffees and spicy chilli egg baguettes.

Nothing like a fresh coffee at the business end of the day

Nothing like a fresh coffee at the business end of the day

With a spring in our steps we took the beachfront route to our guesthouse, still-sleeping beach bars one side, and the artistically manicured bushes of the promenade on the other, with empty white, white sands and blue, blue waters just beyond. No doubt things would get much livelier as the day and indeed night progressed.

The beach road

The beach road

Nha Trang had mostly been selected for our next stop as it seemed a pleasant beach side town, home to an oceanography museum (+points Corallie) and the gallery of a renowned Vietnamese photographer, Long Thanh (+points Keith). Nha Trang, it turned out, was a popular Russian beach resort/escape town. Noted initially by stern looking ladies in bikinis, parking up mopeds in front of shops selling cut price ski gear (of all things in a seaside town); but well and truly brought home by an interesting exchange shared one morning in a quirky Mexican take-away joint. While we sat peacefully enjoying a quick breakfast burrito and ice-coffee at around 8am, a large man stumbled over and sat uncomfortably close to us on the street-side bar stools; "It is my wife birthday" he told us in his best broken English, "She has sent me out not to be drunk." He then proceeded to mime the slit throat he would get if he was drunk today, interspersed with uncontrollable bursts of laughter showing off his gold teeth; promptly followed by lessons in how to toast in Russian, us with our coffees and our new friend with his alleged first beer of the day. Eventually finishing up our burrito we made our excuses and after some strange sort of macho, squeeze-as-hard-as-one-can handshake (not wanting to generalise but how I would imagine Putin to conclude business with fellow world leaders) we beat our hasty retreat.

The beach, complete with tourist in budgie smugglers

The beach, complete with tourist in budgie smugglers

Our first morning we decided to walk the few kilometres along the coast to the Oceanography Museum, all the time followed by the giant Hollywood style Vinpearl sign the nearby Hon Tre island. Vinpearl, we discovered (without too much research) is a sizeable water park, complete with the world's longest sea-spanning cable car, carrying customers across to the island whilst also avoiding the water.

On leaving the main strip of hotels, the well tended and served beach front disappears, and in its place small fishing settlements spring up; mazes of narrow alleyways through stacks of tiny houses can be navigated until reaching the water, providing an interesting juxtaposition of local versus tourist accommodation.

Corallie exploring the streets

Corallie exploring the streets

The rowing tub, popular, but only for short journeys!

The rowing tub, popular, but only for short journeys!

A dog taking a nap down the windy streets

A dog taking a nap down the windy streets

The hard-to-escape Vinpearl sign

The hard-to-escape Vinpearl sign

Number 89, Nha Trang

Number 89, Nha Trang

Finally reaching the Oceanography Museum we found it to be more of a marine biology museum/aquarium, but nevertheless filled with numerous exhibits, all housed in impressive colonial buildings. The museum also outlined their work on conservation and creation of research facilities, however we weren't so sure about their efforts to pickle and store an example of each species present in their waters; the end result was a room filled with shelf after shelf of jars containing bleached and shriveled up creatures, to me looking more like Victor Frankenstein's library than a modern scientific study.

Experimental hydroplane at the Oceanography Museum

Experimental hydroplane at the Oceanography Museum

The Oceanography Museum

The Oceanography Museum

Inside one of the aquariums

Inside one of the aquariums

Jars upon jars of fish specimens

Jars upon jars of fish specimens

All fished out for now and after a bus ride back to town and a stop for a delicious street pho, we found Long Thanh's photography studio.

Delicious fresh street pho

Delicious fresh street pho

At first the studio seemed shut up, but after we rang the bell to the darkened shop-front an old lady appeared at the door and as the fluorescent lights blinked into life we gingerly made our way in. Long Thanh is a master of traditional black and white photography, with people being the main subject of his work (most of his notable work somewhere between street and portrait photography) and of those, some of his most striking themed on the local salt producing industry. Well worth the visit and they even influenced some of our shots, which we will post up next!

To round off our first jam packed day, we headed across to the Long Son Pagoda, complete with the massive Hai Duc Buddha statue perched on the hill behind; originally the site of the first temple which was destroyed in a typhoon.

Crafted detail on the roof of Lon Son Pagoda

Crafted detail on the roof of Lon Son Pagoda

The view from the top

The view from the top

Long Son Pagoda and Hai Duc Buddha

Long Son Pagoda and Hai Duc Buddha

After doing a little research that evening we learned about 'stunning coastlines' further north (although we should by now have learned to take guidebooks' claims with a pinch of salty reality), and excited to see the following day, armed with a map and a moped we plotted our way up to Doc Let beach. First stop was the 'scintillating' (guidebook talk again!) Cham temple of Po Nagar; a small site but an impressive one, overlooking the bay on the northern end of Nha Trang.

Po Nagar temple

Po Nagar temple

Tourists at Po Nagar

Tourists at Po Nagar

For us the most fascinating part was stood inside the main tower, the interior of which had been painted entirely black; the low light from the candles combined with the incense smoke gave the impression of an unfathomable distance above, a void, opening up into a starless night sky.

Leaving the temple we were treated to a scenic and winding coastal road for the first 20km of our route, until merging with the much busier and roadwork filled, Highway 1A. Whilst some interesting sights, this was mostly a bit of a slog in the searing heat with trucks, buses and bumps to contend with before our turn-off towards Doc Let beach.

Sometimes beautiful, but always busy Highway 1A

Sometimes beautiful, but always busy Highway 1A

Fishing nets and walkways in the bay

Fishing nets and walkways in the bay

Easy rider Corallie

Easy rider Corallie

Arriving at the beach we were surprised to be confronted by the entrances to a pair of large resorts, the first looked long since abandoned and the second although functioning, seemed completely devoid of guests. Just pleased to be out of the sun for a while, we were instructed to leave our moped at the security hut and walk across the vast, empty car park towards the restaurant for a refuel.

Following our lunch we decided to take a turn of the resort and at least to see the beach we'd made this journey to see. Quietly admiring the view, when suddenly a security guard appeared from a nearby hut, "Oi! You can't be here!" Reading this as nothing more than the loud and abrupt style the Vietnamese tended to communicate with (not dissimilar to our bus wake up call), we smiled, nodded and slowly ambled our way back towards reception. However as we moved, we noted a number of other security staff appearing in our peripheral vision, steadily circling in on our position in a sort of slow-motion and disorganised pincer maneuver, finally concluding with a friendly-ish, "can I help you?" from a member of staff. Trying to communicate with us, the stroll back a combination of stilted conversation with our escort and trying to stifle the giggles from the ridiculous-ness of the whole situation considering how empty the 5* joint was.

Leaving the peninsular, we spied some salt workers in the fields and had our chance to get a few Long Thanh inspired shots; a taster is below (in colour for now, but in part to show-off their fantastic pants) and we'll post up the rest soon!

The salt ladies in contrasting coloured outfits

The salt ladies in contrasting coloured outfits

After a few friendly smiles and waves we hit the road back in the afternoon sun, keen to get off Highway 1A and back to Nha Trang long before any risk of low light.

Large graveyard on the roadside (coincidental rather than a result of the bad driving!)

Large graveyard on the roadside (coincidental rather than a result of the bad driving!)

View down to one of the many bays we passed on the way back

View down to one of the many bays we passed on the way back

Celebratory, back-in-town, fresh fruit juice!

Celebratory, back-in-town, fresh fruit juice!

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