Posts Tagged ‘Nha Trang’

Saigon – full circle

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

On Thursday Vietnam was celebrating a special day. It was the 35th anniversary of the Reunification, i.e. the end of the American War. We got on the bus in Hoi An at 6:30pm, and headed south. We spent a couple of hours on Friday morning in Nha Trang, from 6am to 8am, before continuing on to Saigon. As we stopped for lunch in Mui Ne, Gjerulf was the last person off the bus before it was locked, and Annikken was the first person back on after it was unlocked. In the mean time, someone had stolen her cell phone from the top of her day pack… We asked the bus drivers if they had let anyone in during the stop, but they didn’t understand the question. Eventually they called the office, to give us someone who spoke English, but even then all they could come up with was a shrug and a wagging of the right hand from side to side, which apparently means “Shit happens” or “Nothing we can do about it” or something of that sort.

We met some nice travellers on the second bus, who are living in Tokyo, teaching foreign languages; a German, Karoline,  teaching German, and two Americans, Bryan and Jake, teaching English… 😉 Jake had his camera and ipod stolen from his bag on the previous bus, so someone was definately making some extra money on that trip.

We went out for dinner with the three teachers last night, along with a Canadian guy from the bus, a Japanese girl that the teachers had met earlier in Vietnam, who just happened to be there, a Japanese guy who had studied with the girl in Australia a couple of months ago, and who also just happened to be walking by, and last but not least a Scottish guy whom the Canadian had met elsewhere in Vietnam, and who ALSO just happened to be there… When you’re a backpacker, these things tend to occur. The night ended early, however, as most of us had just gotten off the bus after a 25 hour bus ride…

Today we met up with Bryan for breakfast, and Karoline a bit later, and then the four of us spent the day walking around Saigon, buying stuff at a local market, and we even managed a tour of the Reunification Palace. The tour was very interesting, and we learned a lot about Vietnam. For example, they had four presidents in South Vietnam during the war, one who was president for three years before he was killed, but managed to start the building of the palace we visited. The second president was in power for eight years, and lived in the palace. The third president lasted about a week, and the fourth president lasted all of 43 hours in office…

Tomorrow is the last night before Annikken gets on the plane to go home, so this will be our last blog post together. To all of you who have been following Annikken, hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you back home soon.

Gjerulf will continue to travel, and continue to write. He might head into Cambodia with the three teachers we met, on the same day as Annikken goes home, but we’ll see. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Hoi An

Friday, April 10th, 2009

The week before we got to Hoi An was spent in Nha Trang. Due to heavy rain, Annikken thought she deserved a day at the SPA where a body scrub, hot stone massage, manicure and pedicure was on the menu. She was pampered and cuddled and returned to Gjerulf a happier more energetic woman. Meanwhile, Gjerulf took a boat trip around the islands outside Nha Trang in the rain… He enjoyed it, but Annikken did the same trip three years ago in beautiful sunshine, and felt it couldn’t be topped.

The week also contained a refreshing trip to Thap Ba hot springs, with mud bath, mineral baths and mineral showers. After having spent a good week in Nha Trang, we took the sleeper bus to Hoi An, of which Gjerulf has heard a lot lately. In 2006 Annikken spent three months studying here, and this visit is a trip down memory lane, and at the same time rediscovering Hoi An. In the first two days here she has shown Gjerulf her favorite Breakfast Noodle Soup place, her favorite dinner restaurant, her favorite bar, her favorite French Bakery, her favorite beach, and her old study centre, where she also had time to go every once in a while… After the first night, in the first hotel we happened to drop in at after a sleepless night on the bus, we also went to see the hotel where she used to stay. Due to Annikken’s old contacts (who still remembered her name!), her charm, and the fact we’re here off season, we’re now staying in a 45 dollar room for 15 dollars, with air con, a balcony, a bath tub, and breakfast included. We met some nice people at her favorite bar, and headed with them out to Cam Nam Island, to a bar called King Kong, where we put our names on the wall, where hundreds of other travellers had done the same.

Hoi An is known for the food, the laid back atmosphere, the Unesco World Heritage listed old town, and last but not least the numerous tailors crowding every street of the city! They are known for their low prices and good workmanship, and we spent the main part of our second day here shopping for clothes. Annikken was getting some dresses and tops made for her and her friend, and Gjerulf was getting a couple of kaftans. In the evening, we headed out to King Kong again, to meet some guys we’d met the night before.

Our third day was spent at the stunningly beautiful beach, where the beach hawkers also recognized Annikken! 🙂 That evening the moon was full, and Hoi An celebrated it’s full moon festival. There were lanterns lit and put on the river, cultural shows on boats and improvised stages around the old town, and even a martial arts show, and we met up with our friends from King Kong bar.

Both of us got quite sunburned on the beach that day, so on our forth day rented a motorbike went to Marble Mountain, an extraordinary piece of geography (or is it geology?) about 20 kilometers from Hoi An, named for the amazing marble extracted from it and the surrounding hills. The steep sides of the hill had steps going up to temples, pagodas, caves and view points, and in the village surrounding it, more than half the shops were stone cutters! On the way there on our rented moped, a vietnamese woman drove up beside us and started chatting. It turned out she lived just next to Marble Mountain, and ran a stone cutting business there with her family. She let us park our moped there for free, and Annikken struck a good deal with her on a marble mortar and pestle when we were done sightseeing. Next to Marble Mountain is China Beach, where we went to “Hoas Place” for dinner. Hoa himself was playing poker with a Canadian and an Australian, and was very drunk, even though it was only 4.30. He kept telling us to take it easy, and gave us lots of hugs when he realized Annikken had been there in 2006… The food was great, especially the spring rolls, but we forgot to sign the guestbook before we left, even though we had planned to find Annikken’s last entry in the back log of over 20 books!

Today we are headed to Hanoi, to renew Gjerulf’s visa. At the airport in Saigon he was given a 15 day visa, instead of the 30 day one he was supposed to get, and we found this out only after it’d run out, so he’s hoping fervently it won’t cost a fortune in fines… Although we had not planned to go to Hanoi quite yet, we’re not all that sad to leave, considering the weather forecast has predicted rain all of next week! We’ll rather come back later and get some sunshine. 🙂

Nha Trang – Backpacker Central

Monday, March 30th, 2009

March 29
Yesterday we got up at 6am, and were picked up by our diving outfit outside our Guest House at 7.30, after showers and a rice-noodle soup breakfast. We were driven to the harbour, and it turned out we were the only two divers on boat, so we had the crew of three all there only for us. At first we were a tad nervous that we’d ended up with a unserious outfit, and that everyone knew but us, but our misgivings faded when we saw how professional they were, and how well they treated the equipment.

The boat ride out to Hon Mun (Mun Island) National Marine Park took about 50 minutes, time we spent relaxing in the morning sun on deck, and then preparing our equipment. We got in the water shortly after arrival, and started our first dive at just before 9am. The site was Madonna Rock, by the tiny Hon Rom, outside of Hon Mun. We went down to about 17 meters, and wished we had an under water camera! The colours of the corals weren’t quite as breathtaking as we might’ve fantasized about, but the fishes were really nice. Being on the seaward side of the island, the swells could actually be felt as deep as 10 meters, pushing us forward, then pulling us back gently. Having turned around to head back, we swam through a little tunnel under a big rock, where the swell was felt particularly strongly. As we headed up through the cave, the water was literally teeming with fish! They were everywhere, in bright yellows and blues! Annikken also saw a Murene, but Gjerulf didn’t see it, as it was hiding under a small overhanging coral. The fish were small to medium, some flat, some long, some round, some with a funny looking beak, all the shapes of fish we’ve only seen in pictures before!
As we came back to the boat and started to ascend, we both got burnt a little by some jellyfish threads or something, but the stinging subsided rather quickly when treated with normal vinegar. The first dive was 40 minutes. The boat left Hon Rom, and headed a couple hundred meters up to the Northern Reef divesite, also known as DeRice Bay on Hon Mun. While we were waiting for our second dive, Annikken was enjoying the sun on the sun deck, while Gjerulf did a little snorkeling.

Unfortunately Annikken experienced a little trouble with pressure compensation, and sat out the second dive, while Gjerulf went in alone with our Divemaster, Bâng. The second dive started about 10.30, lasted 48 minutes, and went to 14 meters. Being a reef this time, the corals were more impressive in size and colour but the fish were smaller and a bit more scarce, and mainly flitted in and out of the corals. On this dive Gjerulf also got to see a Murene lurking under a rock, and a couple of the more decent size fish had colourings that looked as if God had just done a splatter image with the most intense colours on his palette! Back on board, we started to head back to shore again. Bâng’s English was not as good as he would’ve liked it to be, and he was studying to learn more. On the way back, he brought out his English text book, and recruited Annikken as a tutor! The lesson of the day was practicing the use of “to lend.” 🙂 Back at the dive store, the lunch that was included in the price was waiting for us.(!) There was a LOT of food, just for the two of us, and we hadn’t even gotten particularly hungry yet, so we ate a polite amount, and headed back for a surf on the net, and a bit of a rest and refreshing at the Guest House.

In the evening we hit the town with the other backpackers, at the Red Apple Club. It was a nice little place, with dancing going on, and other travellers out to have a good time. Gjerulf got to talking to a group of British beach bums, and a Norwegian backpacker couple, while Annikken met a couple of Swedish/Norwegian firefighters, with whom we, like almost everyone else, headed over to the Sailing Club, a night club at the beach, where they had a beach party going on. There was good music, dancing on the sand, and loads and loads of people, and we didn’t head home till past 2 in the am! All night, Annikken’s poison of choice was only Tiger beer, and she enjoyed it! (Imagine the looks on our faces, when we were getting our first drink for the night, and Annikken orders beer, and Gjerulf a Mojito…)

This morning we slept long, and woke up glad that neither of us drank much last night. We met up with the Swedes at the beach, rented some beach beds, and stayed there till the sun started to set. For tonight, Gjerulf has his eyes set on a place with music and atmosphere very much to his own taste, while Annikken is headed back to the Red Apple Club with our Swedish friends.

Ca Na – True VietNam

Friday, March 27th, 2009

We were supposed to go dune-sledding the day before yesterday, however due to Annikken’s severe sunburn we decided to postpone our dune-sledding adventure one more day. Annikken just relaxed the whole day mostly inside, while Gjerulf spent a few hours on the beach enjoying the sun and waves as well shopping for beachwear and finding an ATM that worked to withdraw some money.

Yesterday however we woke up bright and early at 6.30 to avoid the worst of the heat when dune sledding. We met up with Mr Binh and Mr. Khanh at 7.30, and rode motorcycles out to the dunes. It was about a half hour ride, and the scenery was stunning, with the turquoise sea, the bright blue skies, and the sand on the side of the road changing colour between bright red and stark white and back again. On the way out, we stopped for some photos at the idyllic fishing village of Mui Ne, away from resorts and hotels. Once we reached the dunes we dismounted for some pictures by a small lake filled with lotus flowers, before getting some thick plastic sheets for sliding on, and heading on foot into the sand dunes. For a while we got the feeling portrayed by humourous cartoons, of people walking in endless desert, as the dunes rose till they met the blue sky!

Having trudged to the top of the biggest dune, we sat down on our sheets, and started off the steep side. To our great disappointment it was EXTREMELY slow, just barely moving down the side of the mound of sand. We didn’t despair, however, being raised with sledding on snow, we decided to try on our stomachs, head first down! With the increased surface touching the sand we stopped shoving half the dune in front of us going down, and instead flew down the incline! We had great fun, but the scorching sun was trying to kill us even though it was still before 9 am! We reluctantly slouched back to the edge of the sand, where we downed a soda and two bottles of water each, trying to restore our cool. Annikken, being unsuccessful, started feeling dizzy and faint, and we decided to cut the trip short, and head home to the hotel. A couple of hours later our bus for Ca Na arrived, and we were pleased to find another airconditioned sleeper bus.

The bus stopped at Ca Na, but we were the only ones to get off, as it’s a bit off the beaten path for western tourists. There are three resorts just outside the small fishing village of Ca Na, but one of them has been closed down. We were looking forward to some less commercialized beaches, peaceful surroundings and motorcycle rides around the area to explore small coves and tiny beaches. It started off great, although the staff at our hotel don’t speak more than three words of English between them. The maid showing us our bungalow on the waterfront said we needed to use Visa. We refused to pay by Visa, and said we’d only pay cash. When she didn’t back down, we decided to go to the other resort and try our luck. Finally, as we were about to walk out on her, we realized she was talking about passports, which they need to see, in order to register us with immigration! 🙂

We got an airconditioned room with TV and ensuite bathroom, the surf lapping the shore just a few meters from our balcony, all for the neat sum of 80000 dong per person, or just under 30 kroner. We immediately decided to go check out the beaches, and ride around to look for a good place to have dinner. We’re still not sure whether there were any places to rent motorcycles at all, but our hotel didn’t have any, and neither could they point us in the direction of anywhere that did. We were walking around for a while, looking, but no luck. The resort area was definately not aimed at westerners. We were so rare a treat that literally EVERYONE that passed us honked or shouted at us, smiling and waving! Seeing as distances were rather considerable though, we were unable to get around to where we wanted to go on foot, and decided to just head on to Nha Trang in the morning. We managed to find a guy who spoke English, who called a bus company and managed to get us a minibus at 7.30  am. We had a dinner that was surprisingly pricy for a non-western area, and headed to bed. The place was gorgeous in the night, with a million stars visible, and lights from hundreds of fishing boats glittering out to sea.

Sunrise this morning was fabulous, the illuminating the sea and our back porch beautifully! We headed out to take the bus to Nha Trang, and the trip was quite memorable as well… We were at least 23 people that we managed to count, plus some personal delivery mail and luggage, piled into a 14 seat van with no aircon. On the road we were suddenly waved over, and a column of official looking vehicles came racing past in the opposite direction. There were people in some sort of uniform along the road, and suddenly two bicycle riders came zooming past us. A few more cars, some television broadcast vans, and a bunch of motorcycles with TV-cameras followed, and then the main field of the bicycle race! We felt like we’d been dumped straight into some sort of Tour de VietNam or something!

We are now sitting in a divers bar in Nha Trang, looking forward to our first two dives on a trip out to the island of Hon Mun tomorrow morning. We found a decent looking Padi certified diving outfit with Vietnamese instructors that speak very good English, and decided to go for them. The divers bar we’re at has it’s own dive team, but they’re all Russian. Apparently there are lots and lots of Russians coming to Vietnam, which confirms our suspicions, having seen loads of menus written in Vietnamese, English and Russian.