The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Statistics and You

Vietnam has really hit the mark when it comes to [pandering? helping?] tourists. Case in point is the plethora of options available with their “Open Tour Bus” routes. These buses are a hop on, hop off style bus ticket. You purchase a ticket with a certain number of stops and go at your own pace, reserving your seat the day before leaving. I ended up booking my ticket through The Sinh Tourist.

That in itself is an interesting story as The Sinh Tourist, formerly The Sinh Cafe, was the original company to offer this. And they did so with such professionalism, and gained such a good reputation, that dozens upon dozens of imitators sprung up. And without any sort of major copyright law, they all had the same name too. Finding the real Sinh Cafe/Sinh Tourist proved to be a challenge, but I managed. And for only $23 I got a four stop ticket from Ho Chi Minh City, stopping in Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi.

First stop: Nha Trang.

Nha Trang is a small city known for its beaches. It really is a beach town with dozens upon dozens of hotels lining the coastline. I arrived super early in the morning and groggily found my way to the guesthouse I had booked and proceeded to crash for a few hours.

IMG_4055When I got myself up and about, I immediately took to the beach area. While nice, it probably wasn’t the best time of year for it. Rains have stirred up the silt and sand in the water creating a very dirty looking ocean. The beach was also littered with garbage washed ashore from the waves. Still, the sun was out and it wasn’t raining so already an improvement over HCMC.

After I booked myself a day tour to a couple of the islands, I gave in to the persistence of a motorbike driver who had been offering me a free tour of the city. Free? Really? It actually was as it was his way of trying to convince me to do an Easy Rider tour with him. The Easy Rider tours are motorbike tours through the Vietnam Highlands. You hire a driver and spend 5 or more days cruising the mountains from one city to the next. I had been humming and hawing about it so he offered a free tour so I would feel more comfortable.

IMG_4100The tour was a lot of fun and showed me a few places I wouldn’t have seen on foot. The first place he took me was the Po Nager Cham Towers, a set of four towers on a hill overlooking the town. The light from the sun made the stones burn a beautiful rust coloured red. There was a group of people at the temple praying at the time and the sweet smoke from the incense was everywhere in the small complex. It was small, but it felt nice to be able to explore it on my own without the feeling of being rushed with a tour.

IMG_4106Back on the bike, my driver then took me to the Lon Son Pagoda, which stands on a high hill west of the city centre. My driver, Binh(I guess I could call him by his name), was kind enough to drive me to the top of the hill and wait for me at the bottom instead of having me climb the hundred or so steps up to the Buddha. Once he left I was immediately surrounded by a couple girls trying to sell me paintings and other artwork. When I insisted that I couldn’t buy any they said something in Vietnamese that did not sound pleasant and went after the other white people that showed up.

IMG_4128The area, besides that, was very peaceful, with a crematorium cemetery right behind the big Buddha. The walk down from the Buddha took me past a small temple with a large bell. For only $0.50, I was set inside the bell and the monk proceeded to ring the bell while chanting some prayers. I had no idea what it was all about(Binh later told me it was a way to ward out any bad thoughts in my head to relieve stress) but it was cool nonetheless.

On the way back to my guesthouse, Binh stopped off at a small shop where a couple ladies were busy making reed mats. Somehow they convinced me to give it a go. It’s a two person job and definitely not easy. I was so slow. These women make it look so IMG_4157easy! They had a perfect system down with neither of them having to wait for the other. I come into the mix and it grinds to a halt. When I finished, Binh took me to my guesthouse and we bid each other good night.

The next day I took off for my booked tour of a few of the islands around Nha Trang. It ended up being a pretty relaxing day but nothing really to write home about. The first island we got to, after paying the entrance fee, had nothing really except a tiny aquarium. It was cool, don’t get me wrong. A lot of the fish, native to the area, are ones I had never seen before. But it wasn’t spectacular either.

IMG_4165The next island we docked just off of it and we were given time to snorkel, windsurf, parasail, or go for an intro dive. I jumped on the intro dive option, even though I had to pay extra for it. Visibility kinda sucked and there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife in the area that we were, but it still got my desire to get my Open Water Certification up a few notches.

After a lunch of fresh seafood and rice and veggies, they opened the swim up bar for a few glasses of free wine. The catch was you had to jump off the boat into the water. They would toss you a large life preserver/tire tube thingy, and you would just get a small glass filled as many times as you wanted in the hour that we docked. Strangely none of the women got into the water. I mean. . . it’s free booze! Like hell I’m missing out on that!

The final island was just there to swim and relax, which I was quite happy about. Compared to the beach in Nha Trang, this one was much more pristine and clean.

IMG_4187Now one thing that seems to be on every forum and blog about Nha Trang is it’s reputation for thievery. And wouldn’t you know it, I became a part of that statistic. My final day in Nha Trang I spent on the beach, reading a book. I avoided going into the water as it still looked unclean and silty. Somehow, and I give whoever did it props, someone snuck up beside me while I was reading my book, grabbed my wallet from my bag, took all the money in it, and threw it back down. I didn’t notice anything until I got the impression of someone moving away quickly. I checked, and noticed my wallet was out. No money. Looked around, and this is what made me more mad:

Every single local on the beach behind me was watching me. Some were pointing and smiling, others just watching to see how I would react. None offered help. None even thought to point which way the guy went. Angry, both at myself for being so careless, and for the people around me for being so heartless, I grabbed my stuff, went to my room, and packed. I had had plans to stay in Nha Trang again after my little side excursion to Dalat, but after this incident, I wasn’t giving the town anymore of my money.

That may be harsh. It’s still a nice little town. I just felt betrayed and angry at the time. It was also the first time something like this had happened to me – ever. I consider myself really lucky. I guess I was due.

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