Imagine….13 hours of HELL on a sleeper bus, I’m on the top bunk, I’ve had to buckle myself in as the driver thinks he is competing in the Grand Prix, but these are not the roads to be doing that, the bus is shaking and going over bumpy gravel roads, the bus driver flying around other cars and trucks while playing chicken with oncoming traffic, its the first time i have feared for my life. I think the biggest problem is i didn’t take enough valium to knock myself out completely. The beds on the bus were full but the bus kept stopping to pick up stray locals on the side of the road. The sit or lie down on the floor in between the beds. Some creepy old drunk Vietnamese man kept standing up to let people move past him and every time he did he would smile his toothless boozy breath at me and stroke my hand and then kiss it. Very odd to say the least. And the “best” part was i was stuck at the back by the very smelly toilets… what a memorable journey!!!!
Its hard to get excited about a city like Nha Trang when I have just come from the amazing beautiful breathtaking lantern city of Hoi An. Traces of human settlement in Nha Trang date back to the Cham Empire, though in times of Vietnamese rule, there wasn’t much more than small fishing villages. The French recognized that this beautiful bay, with its islands and white sand beaches, made for a perfect bathing spot, and began the transformation into a resort town. American soldiers agreed, and Nha Trang became a favorite vacation stop during the war.
What i was excited about was my first couch surfing experience. I had an hour to kill before i had to call my host, Bits, so i searched for a restaurant to get some breakfast. After 3 attempts of trying to find a restaurant that served normal western breakfast i finally came to terms that you can only pretty much get a Vietnamese breakfast here (unless you are in the backpacking area). So i settled on a iced coffee which at first i struggled to order because they know less English here in Nha Trang than anywhere else. I kept saying “cold coffee” but the waitress didn’t understand, “iced coffee” nope still no understanding, finally i pointed at ice, pointed at black coffee with milk on the menu. I thought what i got was her interpretation of what i was saying but i have come to learn that this is the way they serve the iced coffee…so in the end i was successful and she did understand.
Anyway finally at 8am i called my host Bits and he came and fetched me. He took me to his house, showed me my room which was a good sized double with an en suite bathroom, gave me fresh bed linen and towels, told me to help myself to anything in his fridge and said he had to go to work. Wow so awesome. I cant believe the trust and the standard of accommodation i was receiving for it being “couch surfing” and best of all its free.
I spent my first day just walking around the streets exploring. Honestly besides for the beautiful beach i don’t really see much interest in Nha Trang. Backpackers come here for a good party and to chill on the beach. I knew that it wouldn’t be a place i would get stuck or stay long in.
Later in the day Bits called me and i met him and his work colleagues at a restaurant on the beach where i sampled the local beer. They then took me to this amazing 5* hotel to have a look at the view. We then dropped his one colleague at the airport, having another cup of the amazing Vietnamese iced coffee and his work colleague also gave me a bottle of expensive champagne that he had forgotten in his carry on luggage. The conversation between these 3 guys was awesome all evening. They had me in stitches laughing but then we also talked history about certain countries and they enlightened me on all the places i have not been yet but would still like to travel. We then went to dinner in the 5* hotel that Bits has offices in, the treated me to the most amazing food and it was so good to have real chicken again compared to what is sold at the street food stalls. I insisted on paying many times during the day/evening but they would not hear of it. Honestly i couldn’t have asked for a more amazing first experience at couch surfing. Bits is totally awesome and he honestly made me realize that there are still really amazing caring giving people in the world that want nothing back from you. He even said that i could use his scooter the following day to go and do all my sightseeing.
So the next day off i went on Bits’ scooter to explore a bit of culture. First stop i headed just out of the city, up on the hill to see The Po Nagar Cham Towers – These four brick towers were built by the Cham civilization between the 7th and 12th century to honor Yang Ino Po Ngar, mother of the kingdom, it is said that Lady Thien Y-ana taught new agricultural and weaving techniques to people of the area, and this is why in gratitude they built the temper to honour her. The incense aroma emanating from within makes it clear that this remains a religious site for the local Buddhists of Nha Trang today.
Next up was a view of Long Son Pagoda which is a 79 ft. tall white Buddha. The pagoda was established in 1963 to honour the monks and nuns who died demonstrating against the Diem government.
Last up for the day and i had especially saved this for last was Thap Ba Spa. This is a must do in Nha Trang and is one of the biggest attractions, I arrived there hot and sweaty after doing my other tourist sightseeing. They have you shower off before you even get started, then you make your way down to the mud bath. As you get down the stairs to the baths, one of the guys fills up your bath with mud. It was a lot of fun soaking in the mud, dunking your head in, and pouring it all of your body. Now I understand where that saying comes from, “happier than a pig in mud”. With all the salt and minerals in the mud bath, if you lay flat, you can float like a ball on the water. When you’re done with your mud bath, you shower off again, walk through an aisle of water spouts blasting you with water from every angle, and then slide down into a nice, hot mineral bath hot tub. Between the mud bath and mineral bath my toe that i sliced open really badly in Hoi An seems much cleaner and i think it did my wound a world of good. I was contemplating going to the Dr as its really bad but i thin i may have just saved myself a visit to the hospital 😉 After the mineral bath you can go and relax by the pool but i had already spent all day sightseeing so gave that a miss. I’m tanned enough as it is.
On my last day in Nha Trang i had planned to go to Vinpearl which is an island you get to by cable car and it is basically a massive amusement park with rides , water slides and even a show but the night before i saw a notice at a restaurant saying they were looking for volunteers to teach English at a school. They lady who ran it just happened to be at the restaurant and she said i was welcome to come the next day. So up bright and early i headed to the school thinking i would be teaching little kids. But when i walked in it was all 20 year olds eeeeeeeeek. I wasn’t the official teacher, it was an older Australian man but i was introduced as the assistant and although he took most of the class he gave me the floor a couple of times. It was nerve racking!!!!! The topic for the class that day was travelling…the perfect subject for me. I told them what couch surfing was and how they can interact with us travellers and how they can also travel in other countries using couch surfing. Everyone was really interested in me and at the end of the class they gathered around me asking me if i wanted to hang out the following day and they even invited me to their homes on the weekend. Sadly as much as i wanted to do this, the weekend was still far away and i couldn’t see me hanging around Nha Trang until then.
Oh and i also had my hair done in Nha Trang, my roots were in desperate need of a highlight….but i mean i don’t know how i expected to have that done when they don’t understand English ..so im now sporting a mixture of yellow / bleached hair!!! not sure which is better…oh well 😉
So normally when you stay at hostels you tell them where you want to head to next and they book your bus, obviously not staying at a hostel i didn’t have this advantage. If you walk down any street there are loads of travel agents selling tickets for onward journey but i decided that i didn’t want to go this route and after much research found the details for the local bus stop. So on my departing morning i stopped a scooter taxi and told him to take me to the local bus stop. When we got to the bus stop i knew that it was not the bus stop i was referring to. I kept telling him “no i want local Vietnamese bus stop” but he kept insisting this was it. When i went inside the ticketing office and they told me the ticket cost 135,000 Dong i knew i was right and this was not the correct bus stop. I tried again asking the guy behind the ticketing counter where the Vietnamese local bus station was but i wasnt getting any luck. So finally i paid my driver and just bought the ticket to Da Lat. i then saw the ticketing guy also give my driver money. So basically he gets paid to bring travellers to this bus stop. Its not the fact that the ticket cost more than double of what the local bus cost, its that i wanted to catch the local bus!!! Anyway i cant get upset about it, i just have to know going forward if i know i’m right i must stick to my guns and also maybe have the address on hand of where i want to go so that i don’t get scammed again.
On the bright side i met the most interesting guy on the bus, an elderly american gentleman who had actually served in the Vietnamese war in 1962. My knowledge on the war is pathetic to say the least and i eagerly listened to all that he told me, it was the best 4 hour journey i have ever had.
So i was supposed to couch surf in Da Lat but just before i left Nha Trang i emailed the guy confirming my stay and he replied letting me know that he didn’t have a couch and i would have to share his bed………errrrr thanks but no thanks.
Some pictures from Nha Trang….