Friday, August 4, 2017

August 2 – The Beaches of Nha Trang

I knew that we were headed back to the heat, but I wasn’t expecting it to be 37 degrees, windless, and cloudless in Nha Trang! That was a bump in temperature of about 15 degrees and trust me, we felt it.

After a nearly four-hour ride on a cramped bus we were dropped off on a busy street in Nha Trang – Vietnam’s beach party capital. Fortunately we were able to walk to our hotel, so we strapped on our packs and started trudging down the street. The pavement was so hot it felt like my flip flops were melting and sticking to it. After a few blocks we found the Golden Sand hotel and the location was excellent – we seemed to be in the heart of the action and the beach was only one short block away. Our room was not yet ready so we decided to go out for lunch. There were a few restaurants clustered right around our hotel entrance, but they were mostly empty and looked a bit grubby, so we started walking towards the beach, hoping for some better options there. By this time the “h’anger” was really taking hold of the Olsons, likely due to the uncomfortable bus ride, meagre breakfast, the extreme heat, and the challenge of a new place. Tempers were short and patience was thin, and it got worse the further we walked, as we couldn’t find a lunch place we could all agree on. Seconds before the punches started flying, we found a nice little restaurant, got seated and ordered a round of cold drinks, which immediately took the edge off, especially since the price of Saigon Whites had hit a new record low – 10,000 dong, which is about 60 cents.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch despite the heat we were immersed in. I had the pho and it was remarkable – the crunchy bean sprouts, the stack of fresh basil leaves, the fiery red and green chilies, and the little bowl of brown and orange sauce, all dumped into the beef broth, created a hot, spicy dish that instantly drew the remaining sweat from my body. Soon my entire shirt was soaked, my hair was wet, and the perspiration was dripping off my nose and upper lip onto the table. One more beer please, sir. And a towel.

We returned to the hotel, got checked in, and had a little cool down session in the gloriously chilly room. But after a while I could see that if we didn’t start moving soon there was going to be a massive round of naps, which would just be wrong with that huge beach and warm ocean waiting for us. So I roused the troops and we walked down to the beach, along the way stopping at mini-mart and picking up two beers and a large bottle of icy water for two bucks.

Although Nha Trang is quite a large city, the section that contains all the tourist stuff is relatively small – two parallel streets that run alongside a beautiful beach, sheltered from the wind by a huge bay and a series of offshore islands. As we stepped onto the beach, we knew we were going to like this place. The white sand stretched for at least a mile, maybe two, and there were many people there, but not too many. We rented four beach chairs and umbrellas, dropped our stuff and then went for a swim. I dove into the water, expecting a refreshing chill, but instead it felt like a hot tub. Yes, it was that warm – I am sure it was the warmest ocean water I have ever felt, or maybe I was just overheated myself. It was glorious.

We spent several hours on the beach relaxing and swimming. The beach crowed looked to be primarily Vietnamese and Chinese and the non-Asian ones were Russians and Brits. During our walk we noticed that many of the restaurant signs and menus had Russian writing on them, and we had read that this was a very popular vacation spot for the Ruskies. More on them later.

There was one buoyed off section of the water where there was a dozen, huge, inflatable climbing structures. One was a trampoline on the water. One was a giant triangular shaped structure with a climbing wall on one side and a slide on the opposite. It was like a jungle gym on the sea. We bought the kids tickets to use it for the day and they had a great time climbing around, although there were only two or three of them they could get up onto as it looked to be meant mainly for adults. I went in there too and gave them boosts when they needed it.

We took the long way back to the hotel to explore the area a bit more and then returned to the room for a round of cool showers, water, and some fresh, dry clothes. We turned on the television and found a movie channel with a flick called Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. It was ridiculous, but pretty funny in parts. Fortunately all of the F-shots were bleeped out, but that seemed to be about half of the dialogue. I really don’t understand why there is so much profanity in movies these days. Sure, a well-placed swear word can packed some comedic punch, but when there is constant profanity any possible impact is reduced to nothing, and it simply grates on the viewer. People don’t even talk like that in real life so I have no idea why they insist on doing it in movies. That is why finding a great movie that doesn’t have any profanity is such a rare treat. Napoleon Dynamite anybody? How about Nacho Libre?

We headed back out into the streets of Nha Trang after dark to see what was going on. The night was electric and there were people everywhere. We stopped at a tourist shop on the corner by our hotel and booked our onward overnight bus tickets to Hoi An (which was still three days away) to ensure we had seats together. We then sat down at one of the restaurants outside of our hotel and ordered some food and drinks. All of the restaurants here were packed with people, and our server was moving like a rocket between the kitchen and tables, so much that her entire shirt was soaked with perspiration. The temperature had barely let up; it was stifling hot and the humidity hung like a blanket over the city. Magnus had never tried ostrich before so he order ostrich pepper steak and I got the ostrich fried noodles. I threatened to get the frog fried noodles but Ana’s dangerous glance convinced me otherwise.

After dinner we went for a walk in search of the night market (there always seem to be a night market within walking distance of anywhere in the cities here). We found it several blocks away and it was jammed with people. Ana and Magnus were excited. Stella and I were horrified. So we split up Scooby-Doo style; those two would search the night market and we would go drink beer. My daughter and I had another great conversation as we waited and watched the hundreds of people and scooters passing to and fro. We considered going for a foot and leg massage at the spa right next door, but agreed that Magnus would be terribly disappointed to have been left out, so we decided to save it for later.

We walked back along the beach and found it rich with activity. In their wisdom the folks who built Nha Trang had not allowed any big resorts to be built alongside the beach – instead there was a huge, public promenade, which gave rise to all sorts of social activity. There were couples sitting together on the beach, watching the waves. There were people swimming (made easier by the lights that illuminated the beach along the entire stretch). There was one group of tourists with bottles of wine set up on beach chairs, having a sundowner that just didn’t stop. There were people exercising on the free, public fitness machines along the promenade. There were many, many locals out for walks. There were kids goofing around, riding their bikes or swinging from the bars on the public park equipment. Ana and I talked as we walked and couldn’t help but compare this to home and imagine what was happening in Canada on a Wednesday night. In the countries in which we have been traveling people live their lives outside, on the streets. Where we live, people live their lives in their homes and in their cars. Of course it depends where you live in Canada, but in general we spent a lot of time inside buildings, and a lot of our money constructing, re-constructing, and improving our own personal castles, creating spaces that we use primarily ourselves. Of course the climate plays a huge role in this, and is surely the main driver, but at times I think we have gone overboard. Also, the streets here are used by people, by cars, by scooters, and by animals. The streets and neighbourhoods in Canada are built primarily for large vehicles, and for these vehicles to be driven at high velocities which, frankly, makes them treacherous for any other use. This is such a narrow approach and the contrast we see here is so stark. It gives one much food for thought.

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