Saturday, May 19, 2007

Re-entering Vietnam: HCMC Part II and Nha Trang

Tyler and I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City for an extra day before leaving for Nha Trang totally travel-weary. We realized we had been on the move for too many days in a row--almost non-stop in Tasmania and now already about two weeks of our Southeast Asia leg had been go-go-go. And our bodies felt it. After so much activity, sightseeing, and the physical rigors of travel, we were mentally and physically beat. Everyone who takes extended trips talks about this, how you need to build in breaks, "vacations" from travel, but that is much easier said then done. Once we're in a new place, we get excited about all the things to see, do and eat. But it was time.

Or almost. First we had a whole day to kill in Saigon before catching the night train. When we first arrived from Cambodia, the energy of Saigon felt good to be in again--bustling, busy, big city vibe. But with the heat, rain, no hotel room (with A/C) to escape to and the aforementioned fatigue, it was a little tough.

But there were a few highlights. After assuring about 10 motorcycle and cyclo drivers that we were really just going to walk a few meters to the park ("No thank you, we don't need a ride") we sat and became prime targets for a fruit seller. Now, tropical fruits are one of my secret reasons for wanting to come back to Southeast Asia. During my first trip to Indonesia, I had the pleasure of trying lots of fruits I'd never heard or seen the likes of...and would never see again: mangosteens, rambutan, salak, longan. I spent years trying to find fresh mangosteens, my favorite, in the US to no avail, so we were amenable to her sales offer, even if it was hard to convince her we didn't really need a kilo of any given fruit.

Tropical fruits: rambutan, mystery fruit, and mangosteens

After wandering through a few markets and failing to find the place where you could get a cheap massage from a blind masseuse (thus helping them be self-sufficient and avoiding the surprise attempt at a "happy ending" for Tyler), we decided to head over to the Fine Arts Museum to kill some time (and maybe find some air conditioning). It was a pretty close walk, but we had some cyclo drivers eyeing us from the cafe. Because a cycle seemed to be the only Saigon mode of transportation we hadn't taken, we decided to take them up on their offer. After the museum (which was only so-so), we decided to go for a longer ride to a pagoda before heading back into our neighborhood.


It was a great way to see the city at a slower pace than a motorbike, but it is a little hard to not feel bad to see these older men doing the physical labor required of the trip.

Finally, it was time to catch the night train. Supposedly we were incredibly lucky to get the last soft sleeper beds with air conditioning for the 10-ish hour ride. Interestingly, the train does not seem to be the preferred travel mode for most backpackers (probably because it's pricier than a bus). We only saw two other travellers in the train station; once inside our berth, a number of Vietnamese people looked at us with expressions surprise, shock and amusement--even some pointing.

Tyler in our night train berth, not excited about another night-time journey

The soft sleepers weren't all that soft, and the 5AM wakeup call was a little earlier than we might have desired, but it did get us to Nha Trang, where we would spend my birthday and meet up with my friend, Alison. (You can read about her adventures in Korea, China and Vietnam here.) We were excited to see someone we knew, but we felt a little bad that she was probably seeing us at our lowest travel moment so far on the trip. Our overall fatigue was making us both cranky and a little fractious, both easily more irritated by life, people, and each other than normal. But a day spent on the beach under thatched umbrellas drinking beer helped cure us of some of our malaise. That and having a lobster grilled for me on the beach for lunch!

Beach in Nha Trang

My birthday ended up being a day of total relaxation and pampering. We decided to go to the local Thap Ba Hot Springs, where we were shuttled between hot mineral mud baths, high pressure mineral water spray, hot mineral water soak, and then big pools filled with more hot mineral water. All the warm water helped us ignore the fact that it was raining (rainy season, after all) for most of the day.

In the hot mud bath!

To be even more decadent, we got massages. For less than $5, a petite Vietnamese woman will give you a massage--complete with walking on your back and trying to pop most of your joints. Then Alison treated my travel-sore feet to a pedicure. A great way to turn 31!

After all that, we went to dinner at a place I'd read about in our guide book that specialized in BBQing food at your own table. We ordered marinated chicken, beef and vegetables (tofu, potatoes, okra, pineapple, plantains, onions, tomato) that we then grilled over a small charcoal fire at the table. Delicious and interactive!

Birthday BBQ

And as travel continues to teach me, sometimes it's best if the best laid plans go out the window. We had originally planned to go to another nearby restaurant for dessert. But we had forgotten to bring our bag, which included our camera (thanks for the pictures, Alison!) and our guidebook with the necessary information. We saw some other tourists (aka white people) in the restaurant looking at their Lonely Planet, so Tyler went over to see if he could get the information. Turns out they were French (as was their guidebook) but they managed to communicate OK and even got the name of a nearby patisserie. We went there instead and greatly amused the girls at the countering by trying to order my birthday desserts. I really wanted to try one of everything, but made do with a small banana cake, coconut cake, green bean cake, and a profiterole.

Vietnamese Patisserie

Thanks to Tyler and Alison for making my birthday away from home so wonderful!

Two days of R&R and time spent with a real friend with whom we could talk to about more than just the usual travel banter (where are you from, where have you been, where are you going) worked wonders for us both. We were back to feeling like normal human beings, happy to see the world around us and continue our adventures.

Oh, and in other noteworthy news, Tyler decided the beard was too hot in Southeast Asia and got a trim....


1 comment:

ambika said...

Happy belated birthday! Sounds like one to remember!