On The 8th Day God Created Breakfast At Mandara

Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
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16
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Trip End Oct 22, 2004


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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, February 17, 2004

12/1/04

Another day, another flight.

We were to catch the 2.20pm flight to Nha Trang, Vietnamís foremost seaside resort as well as being a former US airbase. Well, it was supposed to be the 2.20pm flight til we looked closer at the tickets which read 1.40pm. After a 20 minute drive to the airport, we legged it to the domestic flight terminal and checked in OK at 1pm. If it had been an international flight it could have been a different story.

As it happened the flight was delayed til 2.20pm anyway, and after hopping on a transfer bus we arrived at the plane. It looked quite small in the distance and up close it looked even smaller. It was a little propeller powered, wing-over-the-top, 66-seater. For all you planespotters out there, the ATR-74 has the ability to land and take-off on short runways. Nha Trang had a short runway and as it turned out was pretty much short on everything else as well.

Seated in row two it seemed almost possible to lean forward and tap the pilot on the shoulder, maybe give him a few tips learnt from my Microsoft Flight Simulator.

After checking for any Arabs lurking in the first few rows, and reading the safety procedure card for the first time ever we made ourselves as comfortable as could be in battery hen conditions.

After crossing everything that could be crossed, the 90 minute flight passed without incident or tragic, fatal, horrifying mid-air carnage. On approach we skimmed low over the 4km long main boulevard (for want of a better word, or worse word come to think of it) of Nha Trang town. The airport couldnít have been more in the town centre and we touched down on the forty foot long runway (or something like that).

We walked into the terminal building, er, small room with conveyor belt, and as we stepped through the entrance we were immediately bombarded with offers from taxi drivers, but one thing you shouldnít do is cross Sophie after a nail-biting flight, the poor blokes never knew what hit them.

A young girl from our hotel met us outside and got us a taxi while she scooted behind us on her scooter.

Bao Dai Villas were a few kilometres south of the town centre, and had history oozing from its French colonial walls. The villas were the former retreat of Vietnamís last emperor, Bao Dai (he may have been half-welsh, I canít say for sure) during the first half of the last century. In more recent times they were used by high-ranking officials of the South Vietnamese and communist governments, including prime minister Pham Van Dong (what another Dong I hear you say?).

We were shown to our room through winding paths lined with tropical bushes and trees. Apparently most of the rooms furnishings have not been changed in decades and our first-floor room was one of those. Although quite small, it had a unique charm with old 60s wooden units and French windows filling all the walls. For a base it would be fine, but whether we could hack it here for six nights would be a test.

We ate a noodle lunch of epic proportions in their large restaurant, and later that evening took a taxi into town.

First stop was CafÈ Des Amis, a nice family-run restaurant run by a nice family. Still full, we settled for a couple of beers then headed off round the corner to a bar called Casablanca, and, although it doesnít sound it, was very tasteful apart from the print of Bogart on the wall, but they had to do it really.

It was happy hour, two beers for 18,000 Dong, sounds a fortune, but itís about 60p. As we were lounging outside, very-dodgy-people-watching, the heavens opened so we ran inside for a few more. Grabbing a few spring rolls, a worthy substitute for a large donner kebab with extra chilli sauce, we jumped in a taxi for home.

Nha Trang seemed a very quiet town considering its reputation as a Costa of the east. Some people had described it as sinister on Internet forums, but there was nothing really sinister at all. It was how Iíd imagine Blackpool on a Tuesday night to be: a few young swaggering, staggering lads; some pensioners off to bingo and the odd couple (and I donít mean Lemmon and Matthau). We hadnít seen the place in the cold light of day yet so tomorrow would be the acid test.


13/1

We decided to walk the 2km into town today, which turned out to be a wrong move. The 2km seemed like 5km, a steady stream of scooters bibbed us at every opportunity offering lifts and a steady drizzle left us dripping.

As we neared town the weather brightened, and it was no coincidence that the sun shone as we walked past Ana Mandara Resort, the spraunciest gaffe in town, if not South-East Asia.

We had to have a nose and we edged nervously into reception expecting a big hooked stick to lassoo us round the necks and back out the door at any moment. The place looked a million Dollars whereas the other hotels in town looked a million Dong.

There were no two ways about it, backpacker budget or not, we had to stay there. It would be ours, oh yes, it would be ours.

They were full til Friday when a garden room became available for a couple of nights. We asked for a ëpromotionalí rate and were offered a 30% discount. It would still work out at the wrong side of £100 per night, but we convinced ourselves it would be worth it as I released our flexible friend from its confines and eagerly threw it at the receptionist.

After negotiating the discount we decided to push our luck a little further by asking, no sorry, pleading for use of their oh-so exclusive private beach for the day. Well knock me down with a can of peach slices, the girl from Ana Mandara, she say yes!

Off we glided to the beach, rubbing padded shoulders with the other have-gots. Looking along the beach, the loungers were spaced out in strict regimental format with 5 yard seclusion zones around each. All had an expensive wooden parasol that wouldnít be seen dead at B&Q. A food menu hung from each in a hollowed out slice of bamboo in real Treasure Island style and when you were ready to order you had your own little yellow flag to stick in the sand for service. Did I say sand? Freshly raked sand like you wouldnít believe, the raking bringing the larger grains to the surface that glistened like a trillion semi-precious stones. The sturdy wooden loungers were covered with mattress thick cream cushions that were ribbed (for your pleasure) and a couple of times a day the ëfruit-maní would visit with a basket of complementary tropical fruit. In the distance were dark clouds but over us were blue skies with a sun so exclusive, sunburn wouldnít be an issue. I could go on (as I have done in the past) but I wonít.

Nha Trang has a strange weather pattern, where itís calm from early morning to lunchtime whereupon a mini-hurricane begins to blow until early evening when it dies down, so, come 3pm, we bid farewell to our little corner of heaven promising to be back by the end of the week, not after arranging an extra early 9am pick up from our current place for Friday morning. Whether our room would be ready or not, we didnít care, we just wanted to ëarriveí once more.


14/1

On seeing the mass scooter-fest on the streets of Saigon, hiring one ourselves was the last thing on our minds, but hire one we did in this less frenetic resort.

£3 got us a little stall-prone runaround that just did the job. We cruised around town immersed in a procession of motorbikes, taking in the sights, a post office here, ooooh, a big wheel there, aaaah, the Ana Mandara resort on the left, yaaaaaay. At the northern end of town things got a lot more dicey and stopping at a T-junction we had to make a choice: turn right for National Highway One, the most feared blood-splattered stretch of road in the world, where head-ons, death, pile-ups and carnage are an everyday occurrence; or turn left to safety. We turned left.

Pootling into town that evening we ate another avalanche of noodles at CafÈ Des Amis before nipping into the supermarket for our hotel room dietary requirements, chocolate and beer.


15/1

It was time to get off the mainland for a spot of snorkelling so we hired a speedboat to take us to Hon Mun island, a 15 minute ride out into the South China Sea.

Down at the jetty fifty tourists were busy being crammed onto a cruise boat. Boy, did we look the bees knees (and elbows) as we sashayed down the gangplank to our gleaming lurve-boat.

Our bees knees look soon went as Soph tried to elegantly board. Suddenly the boat started drifting. At this point Soph had one foot on dry land with the other on a vessel slowly heading for sea.

There then came an indescribable noise never before heard from the mouth of a human. The closest match would be if Jimmy Krankie caught his/her little finger in a hinge. Just as it looked as though she was heading for an early bath the harbour master grabbed the boatís rope and pulled it back in the nick of time. Crestfallen, we sped away from the scene of the crime of embarrassment.

We had Hon Mun island to ourselves, and with snorkel gear at the ready we headed off into the murky deep. There were some live coral with the odd fish, but nothing to write home about, but still, four other boats pulled up and a hundred people jumped in to see what all the fuss was about. It was time to retire to the beach to see if we could get sunburnt.

At noon we shot back, and en route we came upon a fisherman crouching on the side of a boat doing a moonie, that is, we thought it was a moonie until he proceeded to empty his bowels into the briny. We wouldnít be doing any snorkelling again.

Back at Bao Dai beach we succumbed to a couple of nagging beach masseuses. Surely it wouldnít be as bad as the ones we received in Saigon? Well, unfortunately I got the Les Dawson look-alike who also practiced wrestling in her spare time. From feet to neck there wasnít a problem, but she wasnít going to let me off that lightly, she wanted a submission from me and she wasnít going to stop til she got it. With one arm around my neck in a stranglehold, the other rained forearm smashes into my cranium. I could feel the veins on the side of my head start to throb as the other masseuse who had finished maiming Soph lay on the sand by me slapping the ground while shouting ë1-2-3í. I flung out an arm in desperation and submitted and it was all over. She was still heavyweight beach-wrestling champion of Vietnam.

Stretchered back to our darkened room, I collapsed onto the bed with sunstroke, brought on by a combination of sun and concussion. I wouldnít be going anywhere tonight and that was definitely it with Vietnamese massages.

As I lay semi-conscious under the covers some new arrivals passed by the door and after seeing their would-be room, did a U-turn. In a booming John Wayne-sque drawl of an accent (yes, he was American), he asked the accompanying porter:

ìHave you got anything bigger and older?î

The porter didnít understand, which led the Yank to concede:

ìI donít think weíre gonna win here!î

Which was quite astonishing, as thirty years earlier to the day, an American Colonel in Nha Trang said exactly the same thing. It was just a little bit of history repeating itself.


16/1

At 9am the morning after, feeling a lot better, we waited in reception like two excited little chipmunks at a nut festival, and you canít get more excited than that.

Sure enough, a van pulled up bang on time and two smartly dressed concierges from Ana Mandara leapt out, greeted us, grabbed our bags and we were off. On arrival we waltzed into reception, legitimate fully paid-up members of the well-and-truly-flushed club.

Our room wouldnít be ready til noon so we headed straight for the beach for a morning of bourgeoisie bathing. Come midday we were out of the blocks on the B of Bang and after a new English record for the 200 metres we were at the door of room 208.

The room was as expected, with . . . hang on a minute. To save my raw pinkies, please go to http://www.sixsenses.com/ana-mandara/ for more info, where you can also see the Spa which was the ultimate pampering experience.

That afternoon, to make the most of our room, we stayed in and lounged around in matching bathrobes with TV remote to hand. With a budget that would only stretch to one dinner and one breakfast we walked into town for a spot of shopping and a very average meal.


17/1

We woke up ravenous, which was just as well because awaiting us was the breakfast to beat all other breakfasts, with a price tag to beat all other price tags. £10 a head. Say no more. £20. This better be worth it.

It was worth £100.

Our breakfast consisted of:

Mango with lemongrass
Banana with coffee seeds
Chinese apple with cinnamon
Watermelon with ginger
Orange in lemon juice with basil
Pomela (a chunky dry grapefruit)
Prawn, cuttlefish, vegetable and noodle stir-fry (yep, for breakfast)
Fresh fruit yoghurt
Muesli
Steamed meat dumplings
Foot square slices of toast
Orange & watermelon juice
Every Danish pastry
Plain and chocolate croissants
Dragon fruit jam
Fusion salad ñ a really fresh, fruity coleslaw
Sausage, bacon & scrambled eggs
Pho (Vietnamese noodles)

That was what we could eat, but there were untold other bowls of this and that spread over the area of a small hall, including sushi, which our stomachs couldnít quite stomach. This was no petit dejeuner, it was a grand dejeuner and one of the best meals weíve ever had.

The clientele were a mixed bunch of western/thai relations, leggy models with ugly rich husbands, huge muscle-bound Russians with huge muscle-bound kids and an old lady recovering from plastic surgery with a plaster covered face.

Halfway through, we were greeted by the head receptionist who had missed our arrival the day before. This was it, we were going to be rumbled as backpacking imposters but she was the epitome of courteousness and wished us a nice couple of days.

The whole breakfast was a moment to savour. Our table for two faced tropical plants with beyond that palm trees, thatched parasols, the South China Sea and a sprinkling of islands. I would have truly savoured the moment had I not been furiously jotting down notes for the travelpod. An hour later out we plodded, a couple of sumo wrestlers and headed for a couple of sun loungers to collapse on.

We skipped lunch and later had a swim in one of their two pools, after which we headed for a game of tennis to try and work up some sort of appetite for tonightís beachside barbeque.

The barbie was as expected, youíd choose which seafood youíd like from a wagon-wheel sized tray and give it to the chef to grill. It would be easier if I said what seafood wasnít available, so here goes: seahorse. The desserts were something else as well with the chocolate covered salami catching my eye, but on taste inspection the salami reference was to its shape and luckily not the content which had a kind of brownie consistency.

So we had had the best breakfast and best barbeque ever in one day, and to top it off, live premiership football was on the box that evening, life doesnít get much better than this.

Nha Trang and its lack of character and charm could well have been a damp squib for us, but our two days and two nights at Ana Mandara were unforgettable, and we can die a contented couple with the memory of THE breakfast.

Episode 16 will be appearing at a monitor near you soon . . .

The Breakfast Club
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