Departed Nha Trang this morning fo a place called Da Lat in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, one stop from Ho Chi Minh City. We had spent the last few days in Nha Trang following a short stop at the silk capital of Vietnam, Hoi An.
The highlight of our trip to Nha Trang, for me anyway, came from an unlikely source. You would think that not being able to sleep on an overnight bus would be cause for considerable irritation and to be honest it was to begin with. However, as we got closer to Nha Trang, about 4-5 in the morning, we started to pass mountains strikingly silhouetted against the sky with lakes and rivers in the foreground. It was made all the more impressive by the fact that it was a full moon which illuminated the sky and reflected across every body of water we passed. Finally, when we arrived in Nha Trang around 6 in the morning we passed the seafront where small islands could be seen in the distance against a blue grey sea. There was also hundreds of locals and tourists walking around, the full moon is a very important event in the calendar for Buddhists.
On arrival we all decided to catch up on what sleep we had missed out on the journey, as you can imagine I was keen to add to my one hour's sleep! We then ventured out into Nha Trang. It was packed with high rise hotels and bars, tonnes of tourists and I would have been less surprised to learn I was on the Med than Vietnam!
Not wanting to look conspicuous, we decided to join the masses on the beach and quickly got involved in a football game with a group of locals. It was great fun, not to mention incredibly tiring! It was made all the more interesting because the concept of midfield seemed redundant. The basic idea was that the defence booted it up to the attack who attempted to score, if they failed then the other team had a go at applying the same formula. The major plus side of this approach to football was that if you needed a rest all you had to do was stand in midfield, this was my position for the majority of the match!
On our final full day in Nha Trang we decided to take a boat trip round some islands. It was extremely touristy and to begin with I have to say I feared the worst. These fears were not allayed when our first stop turned out to be an aquarium with a variety of fish not much greater than my local garden centre in England! There were more tourists than fish!
Conscious that the temperature was extremely warm I decided to put on suncream. The Korean lady next to me obviously thought it was a good idea and asked to borrow it after me. On handing over the suncream, I was slightly shocked and very amused to see the suncream passed around all the extended family, and, I suspect, a number of people unknown to the lady or her family!
The day took a turn for the better when we stopped by a coral reef to go snorkelling. No large fish but there were a number of pretty, colourful fish and I think I saw a large shrimp! After that it was time for food and entertainment on the boat. Once the food was cleared away out came the band comprising of our guide Phuk on lead vocals (never have I encountered someone more suited to being a Club 18-30s rep!), our driver on the guitar, a drum player, a tambourine player and backing singer. They covered Western and Vietnamese classics with gusto and had us all up dancing to the rhumba! For me, the champagne moments were a rendition of Lionel Richie's 'Hello' and a drum solo all the more impressive for being performed on upturned oil drums!
Later in the day we stopped off at an island and set up a massive game of volleyball. This sort of thing is one of my favourite parts of travelling as people from many different countries joined and everyone seemed to immensely enjoy it.
The downside of the day was that I think that I suffered mild heatstroke and, in addition to already having a cold, now feel pretty lousy.
All-in-all I wasn't too sad to be leaving Nha Trang as one of the draws of travelling for me is to see new places and cultures very different from our own. However, for all that Nha Trang in particular, and Vietnam more generally, has become increasingly westernised, you still encounter a humbling sight or experience which reminds you of the sadness and hurt in their not so distant past. On the beach one day, a young girl came begging for money with her blind father (who was missing both eyes), you occassionally see mothers with their babies on street corners, and men with limbs missing, wheeling themselves around on a cross between a bicycle and a skateboard.
On the other side you experience open friendliness, humility and warmth that you do not encounter with such regularity in England. It would be interesting to see how the Vietnamese interact with one another to see whether there is a marked difference. Like all places in the same country, the level of friendliness differs but I have never experienced hostility and it is a place where you very much get out of the place what you put in to it. Don't underestimate the power of a smile!
Right, off to lie down and read my book in the hope that I feel better soon so I can go and see what Da Lat is like.
Take care of yourselves and keep in touch, it is lovely to hear from you all,