December 2, 2012

The End Is Near…And We're Getting Lazy

From Hoi An we backtracked to Da Nang so that we could catch a train further south. We have gone our entire trip planning things out last minute. We buy train tickets the day of and never get burned…until we got to Vietnam. We've recently learned the hard way that even buying tickets four days in advance is not long enough. For this particular trip, all of the soft-sleeper beds in even the slowest of southbound trains were sold out. We had no choice but to go with a hard-sleeper, which is undesirable for several reasons. They are dirtier, more crowded, and the beds are literally just a metal board with a sheet on top. Because they are (slightly) cheaper, they are also frequented by locals. We normally love locals, but not in close sleeping arrangements. They tend to have different standards when it comes to sleeping hours and social skills.

After this twilight zone experience, we can certifiably vouch that you never want a hard-sleeper to happen to you. Our train had already been picking people up by the time we got on in Da Nang, so most passengers were sound asleep. We opened the door to our cabin and through the darkness could make out six bodies in six beds. Our bunk mates were harboring two stowaways in our beds! They wouldn't even leave…they just looked at us with disgust for waking them up. After the conductor had to kick them out, we watched as one of the women hacked and coughed her way down the hallway…where she ended up sleeping the rest of the night.
We chalked that up as another “experience” and continued south. 

Nha Trang is Vietnam's top beach destination and had been on our list for the past year. But just a week before arriving in Vietnam, we started reading more about it. Apparently November and December are the worst months to come because of the monsoon and strong currents that hit central Vietnam. Oh no!

Phu Quoc, an island off the coast of southern Vietnam would be the better option this time of year, but it's more complicated to get to. At this point in our trip we are not looking for complicated. We need easy. Skipping Nha Trang would throw our entire schedule for a loop. Plus the weather had been so unusually good in Hoi An, that we decided to stick with our original plan. Maybe the water in Nha Trang wasn't as blue as normal, but it was sunny all three days. 

We rented lounge chairs and a thatched-roof umbrella for a whopping $3 per day...slightly better than the $50 we saw in France or the $17 we paid in Italy.

Just like elsewhere in Vietnam there are women trolling the beach with their shoulder baskets…except in Nha Trang they have whole lobsters in one basket and a grille in the other. They'll stop at your cabana and cook them right up. 

Indeed, even though we're at the beach, there's no doubt we're still in Vietnam. 

One day we needed a dose of culture so we rented a motorbike. We weren't happy about it because the traffic here is so idiotic, but we couldn't find a single person renting bicycles. We very cautiously rode off to see Long Son Pagoda and the Po Nagar Towers. 

These Cham alters from the 8th century were pretty interesting. They had zero ventilation. The inside was so blackened from incense smoke that we couldn't even make out the ceiling. Super mystic.

Aside from those two sites, Nha Trang is not exactly a haven for culture. During the day we saw more Russians than Vietnamese people. But as soon as the sun goes down, the locals come out and enjoy their beach. They (very badly) hit around a volleyball and have big family picnics on the sand. There are also large groups of teenagers playing Vietnamese versions of ring-around-the-rosie, tug-of-war, and musical chairs. Maybe we don't know their language, but we can always pick out their giggles. This painfully innocent flirting is all set under Nha Trang's gorgeous moonlight. 

In Peru, the history, religion, and communal gatherings were all centered around the sun. But people are afraid of the sun here. It will make their skin darker, and they really don't like that. In Vietnam, it's all about the moon.

One night we were headed down to the beach to have a beer picnic before dinner, and we got called over by a group of 20-something locals. Normally when this happens it's because they want to practice their English with us. Not this time. These kids couldn't speak more than three words of English…and the fourth word they knew was iPhone. They just wanted us to sit with them as they poured warm cans of beer into a pitcher of ice and passed it around the circle. I seriously don't know how we sat there for so long. We had nothing to talk about. Our only thing in common is that we liked beer. I guess that's enough.

Each night the moon rose out of the ocean and provided the most perfect backdrop for dinners on the beach. Nha Trang can feel very high end at times. We have had some fancy, So-Cal-esque dinners that were twice as expensive as any meal so far in Southeast Asia. But like I said, at this point, we just need easy.

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