Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nha Trang is to Disneyland as Jungle Beach is to Santa Barbara

I arrived in Nha Trang at 6 Thursday evening and Annika met me at the bus stop. I got settled in the hotel room, which was clean and had lots of windows, then we had dinner at an Italian restaurant. I got gnocchi for the first time in a long while and it was delicious- a nice change from Vietnamese food. We went back to the hotel room and watched a movie before going to bed early.

The next morning we ran a few errands, then rented a motorbike with the intention of getting out of the tourist area and finding a remote beach. We cruised up the coast for 10 kilometers and came across a resort that was only half finished, although nobody was doing any work on it. We decided to go exploring, hoping that there might be a nice beach in front of it. The weeds and trees growing in and around the resort made it feel eerie, and we were disappointed to discover that the beach was composed of large rocks, concrete, and rebar. 

We went through a small village because we saw a beach that looked nice on the other side of it, however it started to rain so we stopped at a small Pho vendor for some noodle soup. The family that ran it were really nice, and the Pho was delicious- they even grated green mango into it, so it had a tangy and sour flavor. We hopped back on the bike and kept going North.

10 km later we caught sight of an island that looked like it had a nice beach, and a few minutes later saw a small dock that had boats. We stopped bought two tickets to the island, and 20 minutes later we arrived on Monkey Island, named for its large population of, you guessed it, monkeys.  

Pics: 1. A shack on the structure of a series of lobster traps that we passed while on the boat 2. Monkey Island

We relaxed on the beach for an hour, then were informed that a dog and monkey show was set to begin shortly in the middle of the island. The show was really disturbing. One male and one female trainer forced the animals to do tricks. The dogs were first, and they sat on their hind legs with their front paws up on miniature school desks and were forced to do simple math problems using the number of times they barked to answer. When they did things wrong they were slapped on their nose, and when they did things right they were given a small treat.

The monkeys were next. They were dressed in ridiculous outfits and kept on short leashes. They did a variety of balancing acts, all the while the trainers throwing them around as if they were stuffed animals, not live creatures. 

In their final act they rode small bicycles around, and one monkey stole food from another which started a brawl. They really went at it, and all the while the crowd watching just laughed. 

I was disturbed by it, however Annika was appalled. We walked around for a bit after the show to wind down, then returned to the dock and went back to the mainland. 

On the way home we passed a sign for a hot spring and mud bath spa and took a detour. It took almost an hour to find it because the signs were irregular and it was far inland, but we eventually got there. It only cost 6 dollars for full spa access, so we splurged and did it- it was my first mud  bath.

We had Indian food for dinner, then wandered around for a while and eventually booked a "4 island boat tour" for the following day. We had a couple drinks at a bar called Why Not?, then went home.

The tour company picked us up at 8 on Friday morning and took us to the docks. We were soon to find out how much of a tourist trap the tour was. At the docks there were uncountable other tours unloading from buses and getting on boats. There were 50 or so people on our tour, and we all crammed on to the boat. The tour leader then gave us the schedule for the day: 1st stop an aquarium, next a good site for snorkeling, third stop lunch on the boat next to an island with live music and a floating bar, and finally relaxing at a beach resort.

Disclaimer: I apologize in advance for over-using cynical quotation marks in the following description of the day, and I omitted pictures to spare you the boring visuals-

The "aquarium" was a bit disturbing. It was a formed concrete structure meant to look like a 18th century sail boat, and inside was a small assortment of fish, turtles, and sharks- all stuffed into tanks much too small for them. It took about 5 minutes to walk through it, although the asian tourists took much longer because they took pictures in front of EVERY SINGLE fish tank.

Next stop "snorkeling". We arrived at the dive spot in 30 minutes and the crew passed out the snorkels and masks, which were essentially toy snorkels for children, and half of them were broken. There were a number of other tour boats in the same spot and many smaller boats with see through bottoms that entrepreneurs were trying to sell us as being "as good as snorkeling without getting wet".  Annika, however, had never been snorkeling before so she still enjoyed seeing the coral and fish in their natural habitat. 

We cruised along for another 30 minutes before stopping for lunch next to an island. The lunch wasn't too bad, which was surprising, then the "band" started to play. Two of the crew members played guitar and drums, which looked home made, and the tour leader sang an assortment of Vietnamese songs. I didn't think that it could get worse than Vietnamese singing karaoke, however when a mediocre band replaces the recorded music it gets much, much worse. I found it amusing that all the Vietnamese people on the tour enjoyed it, whereas all of us westerners climbed up to the roof to minimize the sound polluting our ears. 

The band wrapped up after 45 minutes and we jumped in the water and enjoyed the floating bar, which served complimentary mulberry wine. For those that haven't enjoyed mulberry wine, it is similar to Manischewitz but sweeter...

The last stop was a resort on a "beach". It actually was a concrete slab 8 ft above the water with chairs and umbrellas- you had to climb down a ladder to get in the water, and there was absolutely no beach to speak of.

I will never do a similar tour again. Ever. Annika and I decided that we needed to get out of Nha Trang; it was just too touristic and fake. I remembered hearing about a small resort north of Nha Trang called Jungle Beach that was supposed to be really laid back, so we looked it up on the internet. It looked appealing, so we made a reservation for the following night. Afterwards we had dinner and drinks at Why Not? bar again. We met some interesting people and stayed there till 1, then went home and packed for Jungle Beach.

We arrived at Jungle Beach just before lunch the following day- it took an hour and a half in a van to get there. The owner, a Canadian expat named Sylvio, greeted us upon arrival with glasses of lemon juice, and gave us a tour of his resort. It was a group of maybe 15 bungalows in no real organized pattern, in between of which were gardens and trees, and in the middle of all of them a climbing structure for kids and a makeshift ping pong table- a piece of plywood on cinder blocks. 

Pics: 1. Sunset over Jungle Beach. 2. Jungle Beach

Sylvio showed us the different types of available bungalows, then told us to choose the one we wanted. We chose one right on the beach so that we could best hear the waves crashing at night and see the sun rise. He then explained to us the way the resort works: 22 dollars a day, including all 3 meals, which are family style at a set time, unlimited lemon juice and water, and guitars, books, games, and boogie and surf boards available for use. Guests never need to carry money.

Pic: 1. View from the doorway of our bungalow 2. Annika on the beach

I immediately fell in love with the place. The other guests were really nice and down to earth, the scenery was beautiful, and lunch was excellent. We relaxed on the beach all afternoon, then had dinner with everyone at 6:30. In the evening we played Jenga and cards with the other guests, then went to the beach to have a bon fire. 

Pic: Family style dinner
I enjoyed my day at Jungle Beach so much that I called Emma and Mikaela, who were set to go to Nha Trang on Friday the 17th, and told them that they should go to Jungle Beach instead of Nha Trang. I had originally planned to keep going north to Hanoi, but decided I wanted more time at Jungle Beach; 1 night wasn't enough. Because I had 5 days until Emma and Mikaela would arrive, I decided to go north to Hoi An with Annika, then go back down to Jungle Beach on Friday.

The next day I woke up for sunrise, it was really nice, then went back to bed till 9.

Pics: 1. Sunrise from the doorway of my bungalow 2. Sunrise from the beach

Annika and I had breakfast then laid around the beach till lunch. I had seen a couple puppies in a shed next to the front gate, so after lunch I went to check them out. There were 4 pups in all, one a runt that looked really pathetic and small and could barely open his eyes, even though they were 4 months old. Their mother was really sweet too. 

After another couple hours on the beach a German couple, an Italian girl, and I took a hike up the mountain to a waterfall Sylvio told us about. He told us we could jump off it, although it was 30+ ft high, so we declined...

After dinner Annika and I were picked up by 2 Xe Om who took us to a gas station where the overnight bus to Hoi An picked us up. 

The walk from my bungalow to the beach:

1 comment:

  1. The monkeys on bicycles reminded me of a KA party, especially with that song in the background. I couldn't stop laughing.