Nha Trang

Trip Start Aug 31, 2008
Trip End Apr 30, 2009

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

By 14:00 on February 27th, 2009 we were finally on our way to Nha Trang, a city known for its great beach and party-like atmosphere.  Sitting in the front seat of the bus has advantages (nobody with their seats leaning back into your face), but also some disadvantages.  The main disadvantage is that you can see how the driver is navigating down the road with seemingly very little regard to anybody's safety.  With no seat belts and memories of seeing terrible bus crashes in Cambodia a month earlier, it was often hard to relax on this bus ride.  However by 18:00 we arrived in Nha Trang safe and sound and after set off on foot to find ourselves a hotel room.

We had maps of the area and knew already where a cluster of cheap hotels could be found.  The motorcycle drivers were very disappointed that we did not want to ride with them to the hotels they suggested (where they received commissions at our expense), but we managed to ditch most of them within a few minutes.  There was one motorcycle driver that did not want to give up on us though and he followed us for our rather lengthy walk to the central beach area of Nha Trang.  We told him several times that we did not need or want his help, but he kept driving beside us constantly trying to engage us in conversation. 

Once we reached the main tourist area (a 10-15 minute walk) a Canadian dive master from a local dive shop noticed our Canadian flags   baggage tags and directed us to an alley of reasonably priced hotels.  He also used some Vietnamese language to tell the motorcycle driver to go away, which he did for about 30 seconds until we set off on foot again.  At this point, Lisa and I decided to have fun with him and would constantly change our direction to see if he could keep pace on his motorcycle.  He was pretty skilled at this art though and managed to keep pace with us as we approached the hotels where we planned to stay.  However as he was parking, we quickly ran into the closest hotel and asked the room prices before he had a chance to ask for his commission.  I explained that the driver had not directed us to her hotel and that he should not be paid any commission.  She laughed and explained that we should try to avoid the motorcycle drivers that hung out in front of the alley; they were notorious for ripping off tourists.

The hotel was named Pho Bien and it had a very clean lobby and friendly staff that showed us a room for $10 that included a fridge, air-conditioning, hot water showers, cable TV and Wi-Fi Internet.    It was also within 100 meters of the beach and in the prime of the night-life, so we didn't bother looking any further.  We knew that the motorcycle driver would be hanging out and bothering us if we had to look at any other rooms in the area.  The Internet that was available in our room went down occasionally, but fortunately we could pick up more than one unprotected Wi-Fi signals in our room and one of them always seemed to be working.

Nha Trang has a very wide beach area with a boulevard running the length of the beach which is a couple kilometers long.  The water gets deep very near to the shore and was quite rough which makes it not very clear.  Unfortunately we seemed to get quite a bit of rain and cloud cover during our 4 night visit, which meant only a few nice hours soaking up the sun's rays.  The sun seemed to manage to make an appearance around 13:00 to 15:00 for most of the days we were there.  As to be expected, there are many peddlers offering fruit, breads, postcards, jewelry and cigarettes which makes it hard to relax for more than five minutes without an interruption.

The tourist area of the town is organized around approximately 8 streets in a square pattern.  There are many restaurants and bars to enjoy, however the pricing tends to be more expensive that in other Vietnam towns.  There are a few street food vendors, mainly selling soup and baguette sandwiches.  We paid 15,000 dong for an omelet sandwich in the middle of the night, which was obviously a rate set for drunken tourists.  For the really cheap food you would have to venture about 2 km into the main town area where most of the locals eat or negotiate with the street vendors off the main streets.  We found a few decent restaurants to eat at, ranging in price from 30,000 to 75,000 Dong for local dishes - more for Western food. 

One new meal that I sampled from a Russian/Western/Vietnamese restaurant named Carlos was "barbecued wild boar with chilies".   I was really drawn into the restaurant by their happy hour special, which consisted of bottles of Siagon, Larau, or Nha Trang brand beer for 8,000 dong for a bottle.  Since we had never seen the Nha Trang brand beer, I opted for that type but now that I have tried it, it is safe to say that I will never order it again.  The waitress noted how it was not one of the better brands, but I didn't take her advice and paid for it.  As I was sipping on my beer and glancing at the menu, I saw the wild boar dish for 75,000 dong and asked her what she thought about that.  She said that she had never tried it, but I was feeling adventurous and decided to try it anyhow.  This time I did not regret my decision as the meal was absolutely delicious.  Even Lisa helped herself to as much of the boar that I would let her have.  It is hard to describe the taste, but it was closer to the taste of steak from a cow more than any product that I've had from a pig before.

While Lisa was eating alone at a restaurant one day, she was approached by a local man who claimed to be a part of the Easy Riders and he tried to sell her a motorcycle tour from Nha Trang to Hanoi .  He was very aggressive and insisted she read his comment book about his motorcycle tours.  While he had many good comments in his book, he didn't have any comments since 2006.  Lisa politely tried to send him away, but he kept pushing the book into her face and insisted that she read the comments stating: "You need to know how good the quality of my service is".    Then the man began pulling out numerous maps and began to chart a route. 

In order to provide an excuse to get rid of him, Lisa asked him for his price.  He gave her yet another comment book, this time it was full of more recent comments that were mostly quite negative, including one man which definitively called this Easy Rider tour a scam.  The man stated he went with the Nha Trang Easy Rider group to a village on the second day of the tour and his driver got so drunk that they could not leave the next day and had to wait around for his driver to recover.  The driver went out with some local people and did not invite his guest along; instead he spent a night in the hotel alone.  He stated that he was expected to pay the tour guide for his day of drinking and sleeping while recovering from his hangover.  After Lisa read this she was amused and actually laughed out loud; it was hard to fathom why he insisted that she read these comments.  After this came the second part of his pitch:   the bargain price of $140 USD for 2 people each day for 5 days!  This price did not include accommodation, food, entrance fees or anything other than a ride on a cheap 125 cc motorcycle and a guide.

Lisa explained to the so called Easy Rider that she would not be spending that much money for her entire month long stay in Vietnam.  She quickly finished her meal and left the restaurant.  We have since searched the Internet for scams involving the Easy Riders of Vietnam.   It seems that there is a legitimate Easy Rider motorbike tour group operating out of Dalat that many people recommend, but due to their success   there are plenty of imitators throughout Vietnam that are likely scammers.   It seems everybody in Nha Trang with a motorbike with a little bit of chrome on it calls himself an Easy Rider.      

One great find that we discovered in Nha Trang was a good Bia Hoi place in the tourist area serving delicious draught San Miguel Beer at 3,000D for mug or a 1.5 liter pitcher for 14,000D.  They also serve a few snacks and light meals, including one that I really enjoyed: deep fried breaded cauliflower (20,000 dong).  Their motto is "Very good, Very cheap, Very Vietnam", and they are located on D Hung Vuong, next to Pho Cali restaurant.  The only drawback to this place is its popularity, which makes it very difficult to find a seat at night.  However the owner had no problem serving us a mug of beer as we stood around and played with his kitten and waited for a seat.

Unfortunately the Vietnam police are vigilant in this area and they actively enforce the rules which disallow seating on the sidewalk.  The owner of the establishment spends most of his time watching for police patrols, and on more than one occasion we had to quickly push our chairs back into the restaurant area (which is a very small and crowded space) to avoid having his tables and chairs seized by the police.  Although the local business owners work together to warn each other of the impending threats, we saw one police truck filled with these plastic tables and chairs that were seized from one of the unlucky businesses.  The Bai Hoi establishment is open from 12:00 pm to 12:00 am daily, and is a good place to meet other travelers and locals.  It also provides the best deal for beer that I have ever seen in the world. 

Nha Trang has a good late night life, with the more popular places being: the Why Not? Bar, the Red Apple Club, and the Sailing Club.  The Sailing Club charges a cover of 80,000 D (which at least gets you a free drink), but the other two places are free to visit.  We attended the Red Apple Club one Saturday night after the bia hoi place closed, and it was packed with Westerners in anticipation of a soccer match between England and Ireland that was supposed to be televised at 1:30 am.  The drinks at this bar are not as cheap as the bai hoi places, beers cost 20,000 dong and buckets of vodka and Red Bull are 40,000 dong.  They were playing decent house music, but unfortunately the bar is too small for a dance floor.  We met many cool people at this club, all of whom were very disappointed when they discovered that the soccer match was not going to be aired on TV as had been advertised.  With half the patrons wearing face-painting of their countries colors, it was easy to sense the collective feeling of bitter disappointment. 

The Red Apple Bar has a post in the washroom area which warns patrons not to walk home alone at night due to ladies who like to pickpocket drunken tourists in the late of night.  Since our hotel was located only a 4-minute walk away, we decided not to heed this advice.   While the two of us were walking home at 3:00am approximately 200 meters from our hotel a group of young and attractive ladies of the night came out of the woodwork and swarmed us.  They had their hands all over the both of us and it was pretty clear that their motive was to rob us.  I kept my hands in my pockets directly on my wallet, and still felt them trying to grab it on 2 occasions.  These "ladies" would not take "NO!" for an answer and my wife quickly became really angry that they felt they could take advantage of Westerners like this.   Eventually she yelled at these ladies and pushed them off of me, sending one of them flying into the street.  I guess they could tell Lisa was really pissed off and much bigger than them because they quickly retreated into the hole they crawled out of and left us alone.  I find it both sad and ironic that the police will patrol for illegal tables and chairs, while allowing such well known thieves to continue to operate.

We had to purchase our sleeping bus tickets to Hoi An two days ahead of time because of the high demand for this bus.  We purchased our tickets with Sinh Café, and paid 180,000 Dong each for the 11-hour journey.  The bus left Nha Trang at 7:00 pm on March 3rd, 2009 and turned out to be a very comfortable bus, with bed like seats, complete with blankets, drinking water and seatbelts.  I would strongly recommend only bringing a small bag on board the bus as you have very little room to store baggage, unless you want to convert some of your legroom to storage.     There is a small space under each bed where you can store you shoes; even most of the Vietnamese travelers seemed to be unaware of this because most people tied their bags (containing their shoes) to the bed frames.
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Where I stayed
Pho Bien

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