DRAFT book chapter extract
The two of us can be indecisive, and our usual indecisiveness was exacerbated by illness, exhaustion, missing India, and the ever closer end of the trip and return to the UK which triggered fear re what are we doing/what have we done/The Future.* (*now that The Future is here, I don’t feel scared at all, and my everyday life doesn’t seem at all scary)
So we ended up booking a week in Nha Trang, which was super touristy but not with fellow Westerners and provided us with yet another completely different experience. As we’d said right at the start, this trip was about having experiences, and that doesn’t all have to mean good.
As soon as we arrived we knew it wasn’t us at all, a glitzy shiny lit up holiday resort, like a very upmarket Great Yarmouth (link to blog explaining why I love Great Yarmouth so much!) with late night shops, restaurants and lots of ‘ordinary’ tourists rather than backpackers. We watched dazed from the cab, and he dropped us off in amongst it all, at the top of a main street, off which a smaller street, still busy with restaurants, was where our hotel was. As it was so near the end of the trip though it was even easier to just go with it, to say, it doesn’t matter, it’s all experience.
My first impression was how bright everything was, how lit up, hotels, everyone out, lots of busy little street food stands, like a very small version of the Khao San road in Bangkok, everything smart and shiny.
This was very much an ordinary looking hotel, lots of floors, lots of rooms, shiny marble floors but still very cheap, five or six pounds (US$7) a night. The room was again very good quality like Hue, clean and painted white with two double beds, a desk, a fridge, a big wardrobe and a bathroom with a bathtub!
Nha Trang was the site of a Russian naval base, it had been used for R&R by the Russian Navy and had become a tourist destination popular with Russian families. Vietnam generally is affordable plus Nha Trang is hot with a good beach. Russians had opened businesses such as travel agents, jewellers and shops with everything written in Russian.
The menus were in Russian first and sometimes not in English at all. Like in Sihanoukeville, it was a useful reminder that we aren’t the centre of the world. From our Western perspective, it can seem that Western culture and the English language dominates. We’d travelled around India and been spoilt with so many people speaking English. In Sihavoukeville in Cambodia we had realised how many Chinese tourists there are now and how important they are. And that we as Brits are insignificant, numbers wise anyway. We met no other Brits in Nha Trang; we heard only one group of Americans. The other tourists were Russian or Chinese.
‘Things to do in Nha Trang,’ still came up on Anthony’s phone several months after our return to the UK, which always made me smile, as we found very little to do there. We did walk to the Incense Tower (below)
The first time we tried to go to the Incense Tower we walked the wrong way and ended up having a long beach walk, which turned into something else (see next post.) We didn’t give up though and walked back the right way and got to it. We’d started our walk on the beach in the early evening when it was cooler and by the time we’d walked to the tower it was dark with all the neon lights lit up. All around that area were hotels, many with names in lights. ‘Happy Hotel.’ Huge hotels with only small gaps between them. One looked like honeycomb. So many hotel rooms. Really, they were all needed? It was hard to take it in, the numbers, the facilities.
The Vietnamese shop assistants spoke Russian, a few times they spoke to us and we didn’t understand and then they realised we weren’t Russian, ‘Oh you are not Russian!’ A Russian man outside a bar gave us a flier, ‘I thought you were Russian,’ he said. We went out for a meal at an Indian restaurant; the Indian head waiter spoke Russian to the other diners. I was so impressed, maybe he already knew English, maybe not, but certainly he had had to learn Vietnamese, and then learn Russian as well.
It was interesting to observe a different group of tourists. In the evening their (the Russian tourists’) skin was often bright red. This was in sharp contrast to the other tourists who were Chinese, who covered up from the sun with hats and tops and who also wore pollution masks. Walking alongside the beach we saw the Russian style of sunbathing, which was standing, arms outstretched, baking, in bikinis or brief trunks. Although when I reported all this to my cousin back home in the UK she said that she sometimes sunbathes like that too to make sure she gets an all over tan.
On the walls of a restaurant on our street were photographs of all the animals they served, before and after, a photograph of the animal alive next to a photograph of it prepared to eat or in a meal. A photograph of a live chicken and then a whole chicken raw and plucked, a photograph of a frog, an alligator, an ostrich, a snake, next to a photograph of the animal cut into chunks in a meal. This became known as ‘the place with all the animals.’ But nowhere was any better. Everywhere was the same.
All the restaurants had tanks, aquariums, at first glance they looked like fish tanks for decoration, then no, it was to eat. And outside almost every place, all along from the corner of our road and all down the main road were bowls, like large plastic washing up bowls, all the same in pale green as if bulk bought, some stacked on top of each other. There were lots of these bowls outside almost every restaurant and in the bowls were what looked like every kind of sea creature. It was as if every sea creature you could imagine had been captured. Crabs with their claws bound with a rubber band, I couldn’t tell if they were alive or dead. Two big fish in a plastic bowl the same size as them who looked almost dead; there was a limit to what they could endure. Lobsters clearly alive. All sorts of small creatures, strange kinds of squid. They changed the water and it spilled out onto the pavement; every day we walked past, through the poor creatures’ water, slippery underfoot. As well as all the sea creatures, shops sold dead baby alligators with pearls in their mouths as ornaments. Heated barbecues on the street cooked lobsters and other creatures.
The Happy Cow app saved us while we were in Nha Trang. A tiny stall, a little cart, run by a woman for twelve years, serving Banh Mi (filled baguettes) with all vegan ingredients; different kinds of seitan meats, sauces and salad, for about twelve pence each. Her cart
Part Two on Sunday
Thank you very much for reading
About the author
Sold house, left career, gave away almost everything else. With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India. Here are my India highlights. Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.