We just finished our second to last city for the tour (although 5 of the 6 of us are going to go out to a beach city for a few days after the tour ends. no one can stand the thought of 6 days of dodging heavy traffic in the capital). Nha Trang is where Ms. Universe was held last month (which is obviously a source of pride, because we’re heard about it a million times already). It is the most westernized town we’ve been to thus far. Yesterday we spent the day on a boat in the bay. We got to get off at one point and go into a ‘basket boat’ which is exactly what it sounds like. It is a huge bamboo basket (coated in manure and tar on the outside to make it water proof) without a handle that you sit in and paddle. It seemed a little precarious, but no one fell out and we got some funny pictures. We stopped another time to go snorkeling. I must be a snorkeling snob, because the low visibility, dead looking coral and small schools of little fish weren’t nearly as impressive of the nurse sharks, turtles, lobsters, eels and giant sting rays of Belize (granted, that is the second biggest barrier reef in the world). The British couple did see an angel fish and some sea worms, but the rest of us missed out on those. The idea of a sea worm creeps me out a little bit anyway, so I am not too disappointed to have missed it. Anyway, it was nice to go for a swim and nicer to lie out on the deck of the boat basking in the sun. This is where I got a little sea sick and decided to sleep through lunch so that I wouldn’t feel anything. When I woke up, we had docked on the beach made of rocks. They had deck chairs and an umbrella set out for us. I ditched these for awhile though, so that I could get a pedicure and massage on the beach. I had 2 women working on me for both treatments and it cost less than $7 for both. They were worth the bit of sea sickness.
Yesterday, I woke up early and had breakfast (lemon and sugar pancake with a delicous strawberry mango banana smoothie!) and then walked around the city and to the beach. Besides the mountains of Sapa, it was the coldest city that we have been to, but the light rain still felt perfect. We all met for lunch and took a taxi to this dumpy restaurant. The quality of the restaurant and table settings are definetly no indicator of the quality of food in Vietnam. Our table cloth looked like a beach towel with a beer logo and at least 3 holes in it. Our food was raw marinated beef, chicken, shrimp, pork and veggies. They put a clay pot on our table with a grill and charcol. it was the best meal i’ve so far here. delicious! it was also less than $2 a person.
Then we moved on to the mud baths, which were actually pretty smelly. We were in a 6 person tub that really could have fit 4 comfortably. We took turns letting one person stretch out because we could float on the mud and everyone wanted to try that cool party trick. It was a very odd feeling; you could touch your toes on the bottom and lean back and the rest of your body would just hover over the bottom. After 30 minutes of that, we laid out in the sun with our mud on us, but it was really not that warm so it didn’t totally dry. Then we showered, which took forever to get all of the mud off and then we went in these “hydrotherapy” showers, that were crazy. They had a million spouts of water come out from 2 walls and we stood there and water shot at us. Then we went in a mineral springs tub that was 104 degrees. I got my toes in, that was all that I could handle. Then, we went to a mineral water pool, but that water was still like 85 degrees, so it wasn’t quite refreshing. They had 2 man made waterfalls that looked very relaxing in the photographs but in reality poeple were lined up shoulder to shoulder because it was pretty crowded. There were also tons of kids. It seemed to me like an odd place to take children, but I guess not if you are local. All in all, it was fun, but next time i would only really want to do the mud and then lay out with it on me. It claimed to have all of these healing powers (for skin problems, arthritis, etc). I had a cut on my eyelid and after the mud baths it was completely gone, so I guess maybe there is truth to their claims.
We then came back for an early dinner so we could catch our 6 pm overnight train to Ho Chi Minh City (the capital and former Saigon). The other single traveler in our group, David, turned 35 yesterday. While we were at the mud baths, Luu (our tour guide) apparently spent the afternoon planning out a birthday party for him. He bought a large cake from a bakery near our hotel, wine and bought tons of balloons, which he each filled with a question about Vietnam. We had 2 compartments on the train, so he kicked David and girls out into one cabin and kept the other 2 guys in the other cabin. When we walked back in, the guys were in the top bunk and dropped balloons from a sheet. we sang happy birthday and Luu taught us all how to say happy birthday in Vietnamese (not that I remember what it is anymore). As we were lighting
the candles on the cake (in a small cabin on a train), a conductor walked in to check our tickets. The candles were blown out instantly, but he really didn’t seem to mind our sheenanigans. Then again, Luu may have bribed him, because he did walk in later and Luu sliced him a piece of cake and off he went. Luu divided us into 2 teams and we spent the night apologizing for our lack of knowledge about Vietnam (all the things that he taught us that we have already forgotten). Then we played Yahtzee, which was a fun blast from the past and all tried to go bed at about 9 pm.
It is now 7:22 am and I have been up for almost 3.5 hours. We got off the overnight train at 4 am, then hung out in the parking lot for a little while because the driver that was waiting for us locked his keys in the van (then ran to someone’s house… at 4:15 am and got a coat hanger). Then 4 vietnamese guys stood around the van trying to jimmy the lock. It was quite a sight. So we got to our room at about 4:35, but we only got 2 day rooms for our group of 6 and the room that I am sharing with the english couple has one double bed. So i decided to come to the internet, and we promptly had a power outage (the third one since coming to Vietnam, apparently they are quite common… I’ve started avoiding elevators for fear of getting stuck in one during a power outage). I got lucky though, because this was the first hotel we have stayed at that had a generator, so they were able to get power back on right away.
Expect another blog in a few days about my adventures in the capital (tomorrow we go to one of the underground camps that the Viet Cong used during the American war)!