Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Vietnam Top 10- Nha Trang

Vietnam Top 10…continued

If you’re wondering what the heck has been happening on this blog, let me recap: my husband and I found ourselves with the opportunity to go traveling in Southeast Asia, so that is what we did throughout the month of June. I’ve been back home for three weeks, and I am still trying to get all the amazing places, experiences and meals down on this blog.

You see, Mike’s aunt and uncle recently moved to Singapore, a city that is the perfect jumping off point to the rest of the region. We visited them, then went to Thailand and Vietnam. On our way back, we stopped in Tokyo. I could have stayed for another month and not gotten tired of the amazing cities, exotic food and the delicious feeling of being completely out of my element.

In my previous post, I started a Vietnam Top 10, but I lied. I knew 10 things wouldn’t be enough. Vietnam is an amazing country that seems to be right in the midst of an upswing. Though the American dollar or the Euro can take you ridiculously far in Vietnam, I have a feeling it will not stay that way forever.

We spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh City and a few more in Nha Trang, a beach town up coast. The rest of the “top 10” is mostly about Nha Trang, and I will try to paint a picture of what it is really like.

8) Nha Trang’s fresh seafood- Nha Trang is one of Vietnam’s important fishing ports, so if they are not in the tourism business, the locals are likely to be fisherman. We had a seafood banquet there every day. Truc Linh was our favorite restaurant, and the owners actually operate two eateries a couple of blocks apart. We ate grilled crab, curries, noodle dishes, papaya salad… Most of the restaurants in town would display their seafood and set up their charcoal grills right on the sidewalk. And just in case, you can’t take any more seafood, you can try the little Turkish restaurant owned by a man who bills himself as “Nha Trang’s only Turkish chef.” He’s not lying.

Truc Linh, 21 Biet Thu

9) Nha Trang’s Hot Spring Center- This was one of the best experiences of our trip. What a place! Nha Trang’s coastline is sheltered by mountainous land (see the picture above) where hot, mineral spring water gushes out for your pleasure. Nha Trang is a huge destination for Vietnamese and vacationers from other parts of Southeast Asia, and they all love the hot springs. Big families come together and there is a Disneyland-like atmosphere. You put your clothes in a locker, have a quick mineral shower and are directed to a rock mud bath lining the hillside. You soak for twenty minutes in the freshly flowing mud (it’s thinned and smells of minerals, not dirt), pouring it all over yourself with a little bucket. Then you bask on the sun-warmed rocks for a while before rinsing off. After that, you get to walk through a mineral water fountain that squirts you at high pressure. Finally, you soak in a fresh pool of your own hot, hot mineral water. Awesome.

We opted for a massage after our soak, and it was the best one I’ve ever had. Using a bar fixed high up on the wall, the tiny Vietnamese masseuse used it for balance while she walked on my back. All this, including the massages, cost just over twenty dollars for both of us.

10) Perfume Grass Inn- Again proving itself to be $25.99 well spent, our Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring led us here. We took the hotel’s priciest room at $25.00 per night and got a huge room with wood paneling and beautiful wooden furniture. The hotel is one block from the beach and right in the center of the action (I’m using this as a relative term) in Nha Trang. The hotel played host to a collection of ragtag regulars who always seemed to be at their posts, kind of like Norm at Cheers. The owners were kind, helpful and gave honest feedback if we asked for it. The room rate included breakfast served in their lovely open eating area where we got perfectly fried eggs every morning.

11) Scuba Diving- My experience was previously limited to Florida and Aruba, but Nha Trang is definitely my favorite dive site so far. There are many islands off the coast of Nha Trang where brilliant coral reefs grow. Though the visibility was only to about 25 feet, most of the good stuff is at that depth. We saw a huge blue starfish, a baby octopus and a little clown fish (like Nemo) who harrassed my husband. There some cave-like rocks to swim through--a strange experience that feels like sensory deprivation for the split second before you see light at the other end. When we surfaced, the crew wasn't around to help with our gear because they were fixated on a small whale that happened to swim into the cove where we were diving. It could have been a sperm whale, and it swam around at the surface for the next hour while we watched from the boat.

For professional dive operators that take care of everything, go to Sailing Club Divers.

12) The Banana Girl- She comes at twilight, in that part of the day between afternoon and evening when the light casts a faded, pink glow over the beach. Sorry for the melodrama, but after seeing her on our first day in Nha Trang, I thought the banana girl might really be an apparition. She came up to me selling her doughnut hole-like banana fritters when I was walking along the shore. Having just eaten a late seafood lunch, I couldn’t do it, even though I wanted to. There are street (or beach) vendors all over Nha Trang selling the same few snacks, so I figured I could try the banana fritters whenever I wanted. Of course, no other vendor sold anything like this! I cursed myself for not tasting them when I had the chance. When she emerged again along the shoreline on our last afternoon, I flung out my arms as if to hug her and waved her over. There was nothing supernatural about them, but they were very tasty fritters.

13) Street vendor food, especially if you can’t identify it

Street vendors in Nha Trang often rely on the smoky scent of the little charcoal cookers set up in their carts or on the sidewalk. As sweet potatoes and corn roast over the coals, the smell of the blistered vegetables draws you in. The street vendors also sell grilled meat with side dishes, but there were plenty of things we could not even identify. There were little meatballs wrapped in what could have been grape leaves and some kind of starchy root vegetable that reminded me of yucca served with an addictive blend of sugar and salt.

In Ho Chi Minh City, what often hits your nose as you turn a random street corner is the smell of sweet egg batter sizzling on a snack-size waffle iron. One day, we had to stop for a woman and her cute daughter selling little green pancakes hot off her portable griddle. They were sweet with the faint taste of macaroons. We hoped to find that lady again on another day, but she was not in her place. The moral is, if you see it and you want it, don’t wait!

14) The smiles- Vietnamese are soft talkers, even when you shove your ear in front of their mouths in order to hear them. While they may be shy about exercising their vocal cords, they are not remotely economical with their smiles. At our hotel in Nha Trang, there was a teenage kid who was probably the owner’s son. I swear, every time we passed by the front desk or saw him around the hotel, he burst into a huge smile as if I was the greatest hotel guest ever. It was a reminder of how nice it is to smile at someone for no reason.

That’s it for Vietnam! If you have any specific questions, leave a comment or send me an email, and I’ll be happy to help. I think I will give you a recipe next time (greatest pasta dish ever--I’m feeling the hyperboles today). After that, I hope you’ll indulge me while I write about all the things I loved about Japan…sushi is just the salsa on the taco.

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Brilynn said...

I've really enjoyed reading about your travels. I'm so jealous. And I can't wait to hear about Japan, I'm seriously considering going there and would love another reason to do so.

portable island kitchen said...

loving your blog, keep it up, as always!