Day 66 to Nha Trang
After 9 weeks of eating whatever the heck we fancied without recourse, the odds have caught up with us. Something really ain't right this morning. We attribute it to the place with the rat last night, but a beep on the phones tells a similar sorry story from Phu Quoc: Sam and Tash have also gone down. It seems likely the catered living room in Phnom Penh got us in the end: biding its time to strike like a runny assassin. Breakfast hangs in a delicate balance.
We are flying to Nha Trang, a coastal town at the south east of Vietnam. Gratefully, there is no turbulence.
We arrive and taxi into town past a metropolis of under-construction resorts. They're evidently planning big things here. It's actually quite a long way from the airport and the fare costs more than the dinner-for-four the other night (which is currently monopolising conversation. Bite Banter has taken a distinct back seat).
Nha Trang was an old sea port (and is now a large sea port, complete with its own oceanographic centre) which gained popularity in the 20th Century because of its staggeringly beautiful bay and beaches. It is largely for these we have arrived: we've seen much mountain and lake this trip, but not too much sand and sea. We're looking forward to a relaxing few days here. Nha Trang town is an odd mix: scooter-crowded streets and shoehorned buildings that feel familiar from Ho Chi Minh, alongside high rise hotels and a Mediterranean-esque beach-front which unfurls all the way to the mountains in the north.
Our hotel is nondescript, but they put us up high, and we have a good view of the mountain-range to the west and a new airfield being built to the south - it'll probably be a bit noisier in a few years. We have a cup of honey tea in our room and discuss next moves. The clouds are bubbling up in the south, a metaphor we can both relate to, but it's nothing but clear blue sky out to sea. We head to the promenade for a leisurely beach walk: the sun is beating down but nicely offset by the offshore breeze. Facing the beach is a vast cable car and Vinh Nguyen island which is home, incongruously, to a theme-park called Vinpearl. The promenade is clearly the jewel in the crown here though: it is clean and tidy, and manicured parks and groves follow it down for miles. The beach is lovely as well - white and hot with a tepid blue sea gently rippling out. It's a pity we're both feeling so fragile because it's crying out for a-frolicking. As the south of Spain is for the UK, Nha Trang is evidently something of a preferred destination for Russian holidaymakers, the dual language-signs have Russian on them as well as English (but never French). And like the south of Spain, sunburn is rife. A mile or two down the beach we come across Louisiana Brewhouse, which offers palm tree shading and, even more authentically, a microbrewery on site. Although I'm practically dragging Ruth in already by this point, when a waiter emerges with a 2 litre stein of beer and hands it to a 1960s Bond villain lookalike, the deal is sealed.
The cheerful waiters bring us (a more modestly-sized) beer each from an impressively extensive list and we enjoy the early evening here. Boyed by the setting and the booze, we tentatively order some spring rolls which are delicious but cause some consternation from below stairs. We head back to the hotel as the sun is setting and outdoor lights are winking on up the beach.
Given the newly-discriminating nature of our stomachs we play it safe with an Italian pizza downtown, which is stodgy but dependable. The restaurant is gloriously illuminated, and downtown is thriving at night time - evidently the 10pm curfews of Ho Chi Minh don't make it out this far. The streets are bustling as we walk around town afterwards. Given the proximity of the open ocean, seafood is clearly popular here. Also popular is displaying a vast assortment of it at various stages of flappy animation along the streets outside the restaurants. These sights and smells about do me in for the day. We retire.
Day 67 Po Nagar towers
There's still some gastro-uncertainty this morning which is a pity because our hotel's put on quite a spread for breakfast. The manager is mingling with the crowd. He introduces himself and leaves us his business card. I don't think we're giving off the impression of wealthy property investors, (I imagine such a duo wouldn't use the word 'squits' so much over breakfast) so we thank him for the gesture.
We begin a long walk north up the beach which, after leaving the popular stretch downtown, we have virtually to ourselves. There's more rubbish strewn up here, but it's still pretty decent, and once again the heat of the sun is ferocious. We're only a few days into January, which we keep having to remind ourselves as we splash on sun-cream. NIGHTMARE.
We're walking up to the Po Nagar towers, a 7th century temple tower which still stands (slightly depleted) in the north of the town. The journey takes us over the large bridge which lets the Cai River spill out into the South China Sea. This river has a number of small fishing vessels either chugging or being paddled out to sea. It's very picturesque. We see coconuts being shredded and left out on trays to dry in the sunshine, presumably to be used in restaurants later. We also see stray dogs walking up to said coconut, sniffing around, and then pissing all over it.
We walk up the small hill to the towers. We robe up and de-shoe to walk inside - the temple is still a place of worship for Buddhists here. There were eight towers here originally, though only four remain now. They are quite imposing up on the hill and offer a quiet place to sit down with a lemonade out of the sun and watch the world pass by on the river below.
After we've sated our temple yearning for the day, we walk back down to the beach, stopping in a seaside bar for a drink. We are offered tea or smoothies, but we opt for the sterilising goodness of a margarita to err on the side of caution. A couple of miles down the white sands brings us back, past some locals cooking lobsters on a barbecue on the beach, coincidentally to the Louisiana Brewhouse and their liberal serving sizes. Again we see out the afternoon here, the sun treating us to long shadows over the beach in front of us. Bizarrely, as the sun sets, someone on the beach plays The Last Post on the bugle.
Dinner this evening is in Lanterns downtown, recommended by the Rough Guide and so is phenomenally popular. We took the precaution of booking a table earlier which means we have to suffer the indignity of queue jumping the crowd lined up outside it. We hear the surly muttering, that I know I would be doing in their place.
We're both still not at fighting strength but things are less touch and go than they have been. To heck with it though, bring on the chilli! We'll call tonight 'tomorrow's problem'. The food is good - pork belly and spicy chicken noodles (Halong Chicken - I've had it twice already since we got to Vietnam, but this is the best it's been). Also adding a warm glow, is that the restaurant operates on behalf of an orphanage, and profits go to an educational scholarship for the children there. The food is filthy cheap as well as delicious so we tip generously.
A nighttime stroll along streetlight-lit sand, looking at the theme park blinking furiously on the other side of the bay, sees us out for today.
Day 68 Mud
That bloody bugle! We are woken up by some mournful horn-piece at 7am, honestly.
We manage a bit of breakfast this morning, although with some caution. Nha Trang, for reasons we never quite get to the bottom of, is well known for mud-baths. We've booked one up today, desperate as we are to keep this trip as culturally authentic as possible.
We head to a place called iresort, (an odd nod to the Silicon Valley corporate giant, given that you are wallowing in mud) and get shown into a lovely tiled hut with two baths under palm leaves. From one of the baths, a tap is turned on and liquid of a colour and viscosity that is hauntingly familiar given our last few days, pours forth. The bath is filled, we are left with a tray of lemon tea and fresh fruit. We bathe in mud. Like pasty hippos. It's pretty good actually. Apparently, the mud has a range of health benefits (and also soothes bites which was obviously of interest) but we really just came to lark about. But an hour of wallowing later and I've brought right in to the gumpf.
"You know, I do feel reenergised" I say to Ruth, who's got her head on its side, trying to empty mud out of an ear. Our hostess comes back in to fill up the other bath. This one has a bucket of herbs thrown into it. Before long, our little hut begins to smell like Earl Grey tea. We shower off the mud (although it lingers in the hair for days afterwards) and climb in. We brew.
Afterwards, spring-rolls again cross our path, and we are invited to unwind further in some adjacent pools. We are shown there and it turns out there's a bloody waterfall there (not a natural one). AND a flume. We go nuts.
So after a ridiculously indulgent afternoon we return to the beach and totally by accident end up back at the Louisiana Brewhouse. We round off our time in Nha Trang here, with beers and food, enjoying the sunset and another warm night by the sea.