Tag Archives: vietnam

The sun came out!

Just as I suspected and hoped, the view is spectacular:


The ocean is still murky brown, but who cares! We are going outside, to have adventures and bask in the sun.

The pool looks pretty good in the sunshine, too:


According to Josh, the pool in nearby Sheraton is even better. Yesterday he went over and asked to see their rooms – for about 50% more you can have modern luxury and amazing facilities, like a proper gym and an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. With all that, there’s no security – so he just waltzed back in later and used the gym. This is the strange benefit of being white here – you are assumed to be a guest in whichever hotel you boldly walk into.

We ventured out on the town and visited the market:


Had to snap a photo of this “security” dog watching over the local mechanic shop:

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I was happy not to see any dogs for sale, anywhere. They are everywhere, though – every other shop has a small dog hanging out at the front. In general, dogs here look healthy, well taken care of and even loved. Here are a couple of dogs napping with their owner in the afternoon shade:


We managed to do a few things, like visit a 1,300-year old temple:


Josh was told to wear a robe to enter the temple, and we had to take our shoes off. I think he’d make quite a fetching monk:


The temple is on a hill and offers an amazing view of Nha Trang, somewhat marred by the monstrosity of a hotel/apartment block under construction. Just one look at this, and you’ve got to agree, town planning laws and regulations are a necessary evil:


We climbed another hill, to see this enormous Buddha:


It was hot – at least 30 degrees Celsius, and on the way we saw a quite few people napping in the shadows (sorry, the best pic I could get without feeling like a complete intruder):

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In fact, afternoon naps are everywhere – I even saw one guy laying back on his motorbike, fast asleep, yet somehow maintaining a balance. Shop owners sleep on the chairs out the front, and rickshaw drivers sleep in their carts:


We had dinner by the water, in Ana’s Bar – a tranquil place full of lights. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with Christmas, but the Christmas lights are everywhere, in abundance. I was hoping to see some stars, but not with this kind of light extravaganza everywhere:


We decided to walk back, to work off some of the calories. This was apparently completely unacceptable to the local rickshaw drivers, who ganged up on us, to the point where one of them got off and very nearly tried to pull us into his cart:


We literally ran away from the rickshaw drivers and things got better on the other side of the boulevard, where tourists were expected to walk by the local restaurants, most of them displaying live or recently deceased sea life out the front:

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We have also come across an amazing workshop, set in a tranquil garden:


It was half-workspace, with girls embroidering right in front of us and half-art gallery. This is just one of the “paintings” on display – I’ve tried to capture the fine quality of fine embroidery – it looks three-dimentional.

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It’s not cheap, most items were in thousands of dollars, and this enormous one was about $25,000 USD:


So that was it for yesterday – today the weather has been just as awesome, and I will try to post more photos and a bit of a story later – I had the balls to ask some expats if they live here, and got some ideas for future retirement plans 🙂


Filed under General thoughts

The Upgrade Worm, Awesome Cheap Eats, and the Russian Invasion

Well, things are looking better! Not drier, by any means, but much, much better! Judge by yourself – this is the “before” view (which would have been great in hot weather, as you can open the patio door onto the pool):


And this is the “after” much bargaining with the management:


We got a fully renovated room on the 5th floor, complete with a “honeymoon” treatment and a free bottle of wine:


And who do we have to thank for it? The wriggly bathtub worm. The worm may be long dead, but his legacy lives on in the rose petals, chrome fixtures, and a jaccuzi, filled with even more rose petals. It wasn’t easy, though, far from it – it took nerves of steel and readiness to walk away from the negotiation table. The key to this dance with the management was that we actually did not ask for the upgrade, we simply asked to leave early and get a refund for the last three nights. We had Exhibit A: the worm and Exhibit B: worn-out interior. We didn’t even mention the nightmare Josh had, waking me up in the middle of the night with a bellow of “bed bugs!” (there weren’t any). I started the process by trying to call “customer relations” extension. Someone picked up the phone on the other end, but just breathed heavily, saying nothing.

“Hi,” I said trying to be friendly and annunciate at the same time.

“Hi,” said the woman on the other end.

I stated my case as clearly as possible.

“Hmm,” she said and hung up.

I then tried to dial “operator” extension. After much back and forth with the man on the other end, I’d realised that I’d called another room.

We finally went downstairs, together, as a team ready to face the opponent. The opposing team of front desk staff was so confused and stressed by our request, that it took them a while to understand what was happening. We were eventually shown to a room on the top floor, with a spectacular view, but the same worn-out bathroom and carpet. We’d asked to think about it, did some research and found that we could pay quite a bit more in Mui Ne, but get a villa in a place that not a single Trip Advisor reviewer found “terrible” or even “poor”.

We went back down and asked again, very nicely but firmly, to leave early. We were told that we could leave, but that the hotel manager will not refund any money. I then asked to speak with this hotel manager, who seemed to be some sort of a Wizard of Oz, pulling levers from back in his office. There was more confusion, and finally a polite, well-spoken man appeared. He told us that there was a misunderstanding, that he would certainly refund our money, if we would only agree to have a look at one more room. We’d agreed.

The room is awesome, the photos hardly do it justice. It turned out to be the one they reserve for the owner of the hotel, whenever he comes to visit. So, in a way, we’d ended up in a presidential suite of sorts, or the closest thing on offer. The sauvignon blanc from Chile also helped to sweeten the deal…

With this victory under my belt, and a lot of Chilian export in my veins, I attacked my frizzy hair, changed into a decent dress, and we took off for a night on the town. The second winner of the day was the restaurant called Lanterns. It’s a local favourite, and seems to be perpetually busy:

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We were all smiles…

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…as a personal chef cooked beef at our table in a mini-babrbecue pot filled with hot coals:

hot coals in Lanterns personal chef in Lanterns

Did I mention that the barbecue beef cost us about $10 USD? For two people?

So yes, things are definitely looking up. Except for the relentless rain, which is coming down hard, as I write this on the gorgeous balcony. I’d like to ask it to go away, but, apparently, it won’t. December is the end of the monsoon season – I shudder to think what it’s like at its peak. I’ve asked the receptionist when would be the good time to visit Nha Trang, specifically when it doesn’t rain. She thought about it for a moment.

“February,” she said decisively.

“What, one month only?”

“Ahm,” she said looking up the way all locals do when they have no idea what you just said. “August?”

Ok, I thought, if I can’t change the weather, maybe I can be better prepared for it.

“What’s the weather forecast? Will there be a thunderstorm later?”

She looked at me. “Tha…what?”

“A big rain. With lightning.” I waved my arms around, channeling Zeus throwing so many lightning bolts onto unsuspecting tourists.

“No,” she said. “Not much rain.” Then she thought about it for a moment. “Take umbrella?”

I’m trying hard to accept that I flew half-way across the world and paid tons of cash to develop a raging cabin fever. The place must be spectacular in good weather – I can barely make the outlines of the mountains framing the bay. The ocean is the hue of milk coffee, from all the waves crashing onto the foreshore. I can almost imagine it a different color, blending into an azure sky, rather than the bleak gray one. My Russian genes are stirring, aching to write Dostoevsky-style stories of soul-crushing despair, nihilism, and slow-cooking drama.

Speaking of Russians, oh my God, I have not been around so many of them in exactly 30 years! They are everywhere – I would say it’s a 50/50 mix of Russians and locals, with a few bewildered others thrown into the mix. All the signs are in Vietnamese and Russian, and it is incredibly weird to watch Vietnamese converse in Russian with their customers. It also reminds me just how un-Russian I’ve become over the years – I don’t use the same words or intonations when I speak to my family, I dress differently, and don’t wear nearly enough makeup or jewellery. I feel like an undercover agent who’s infiltrated a foreign organisation, trying hard to cover up my accent, although I’m not exactly sure why. Josh thinks this is hilarious and is threatening to use a couple of phrases I taught him just for fun, namely “I am God” and “Because I said so!”

It’s not only the signs that are customised to Russian tourists’ tastes. We have ventured out this morning in search of coffee – to add to the list of grievances, a coffee is not included in the free breakfast at our supposedly 4.5 star hotel. You can buy one, of course, but it would cost $6 AUS per cup – twice as much as back home. We found a cute little venue on the corner, with a view of the ocean and a covered outdoor terrace. We’d ordered a double espresso and a cappuccino. The waitress looked at us like we were idiots or something and wordlessly pointed to the menu. The closest substitutes on the menu were black coffee and “coffee with milk”, so that’s what we ordered. When my coffee arrived, black as the night, I asked for milk. The increasingly irate waitress picked up my cup and stirred the drink with a spoon. It turned out that at the bottom of the cup was a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk. Josh couldn’t believe it, but for me it brought back childhood memories – coffee was hard to come by, and nobody’s ever heard of a milk frother, so a cup of real coffee with condensed milk was a treat. I would not be surprised to find out that this is a Nha Trang specialty, and a recipe bestowed upon the local community by the Soviet-era Russians.

So that’s it for today. I might continue with this journaling later, if anything dramatic happens. Who am I kidding, of course there will be drama! Talk to y’all tomorrow!


Filed under Shizzle, Inc.

Thank God for free Wi-Fi!

Incidentally, it is everywhere in Vietnam. The country may be lacking in physical infrastructure, but it is certainly staying well-connected. Yes, I’m looking at you, Melbourne – when will you get free Wi-Fi, at least in CBD?

I have done practically zilch work on the sequel, so I thought I might as well write down some of my fresh impressions of Vietnam in a blog post. I will translate them into Isa’s adventure in India some other time.

It’s day seven of my adventure, and so far nothing has gone according to the plan. Truth be told, the plan was not all that well thought through – from memory, every time I got on the web to research the weather or transport options, I inevitably ended up checking stats, blog comments, or my Twitter feed. As a result, we have landed in some pretty crappy weather in Hoi An (yeah, I know it’s winter in the Northern hemisphere, but c’mon! It’s supposed to be the END of the rainy season!). We were also forced to buy two pretty expensive last-minute plane tickets from Hoi An to Nha Trang (yeah, I didn’t realize it would take 10 hours by train, but c’mon! They are so close on the map!).

Josh just read the last bit over my shoulder and concurred  – but he has no right to comment, really. Every time he was tasked with booking anything online, I’d hear suspicious sounds of weights hitting a gym floor – he was looking at people deadlifting the equivalent of an average cow.

Anywho, back to more complaints (the silver lining should be coming up any moment!). Everything is more expensive than I expected – the side effect of being overly optimistic. There’s no such thing as “good and cheap” massage or food, or clothes, or anything. Just like anywhere else in the world, you can have good, or you can have cheap. You can find good and moderately priced (compared to ridiculously expensive Melbourne, Australia), so we’ve settled on that. I’ve also passed on having any clothes custom made – I’ve had one bad experience with that in Bali, that was enough. Sure, the fabric was great, but it didn’t fit right, even after two fittings.

To be honest, I’m not loving this trip as much as I was hoping. For starters, it’s hard to enjoy being served and pampered in a country of such drastic contrasts of wealth and poverty. It’s everywhere – from Mercedes on the street next to a rickshaw, to tiny toddlers trying to sell random goods to tourists dining outdoors. It’s especially hard if for whatever reason you decide to start you relaxing vacation with a visit to the war museum, and then you can’t stop quietly weeping, and decide to have a second glass of wine in hopes that it will stop the waterworks, only to find that it makes the flashbacks to the horror that much worse. All I can say is that I was happy to answer “Australian” to the question of “Where are you from?” , because I got a feeling that either “Russian” or “American” would not win me any favors. Actually, now that I think of Australia’s new immigration policies, maybe I should just keep my mouth shut and look mysterious…

I wrote the above paragraphs in the airport lounge, waiting for that unplanned flight to Nha Trang, full of anxiety and pre-flight booze. I wish it could be any other way, but unfortunately booze-induced arrogance is the only way you could coax me onto a plane these days. And it has to be planned early – I’ve learned a hard way that you can’t get a drink out of a steward on the plane until the wheels leave the tamarack. Turns out that the liquor license only starts in the air, and that the stewards won’t risk their jobs to pacify a hysterical woman. Not that I was hysterical. I mean, maybe a little.

The flight started off well, and Josh and I were pleasantly surprised at how new the Vietnam Airlines plane looked, compared to the dingy Jetstar Pacific one we took from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An. Then, just before landing, we hit some pretty major (I mean, up-and-down and side-by-side) turbulence, which alone would be enough to plunge me into hysterics. To make matters worse, during one of those down the rollercoaster rides, Josh squeezed my hand and said “I love you” in a way that made me wish very, very hard that we’d opted for that supposedly terrible ten-hour train ride.

We did make it to Nha Trang, but I guess you’d probably already figured that part out. We also made it through an even crazier taxi ride from the airport to the hotel some 40 kilometers away. The driver practically flew through the torrential rain, hitting water puddles with a force of a speeding boat, spraying miserable motorbike drivers in our wake. His radio was sputtering incessantly, a woman’s voice chattering in high-pitched Vietnamese, accompanied by constant blowing of the car horn. Every driver, at all times is blowing the car horn – I’m not at all sure how it helps others, and it certainly pisses of bike riders, which sometimes shake an angry fist in protest. This time, they just hunched down under their plastic ponchos and persevered through the wet misery.

Driving through such conditions would not be a picnic on any road, leave alone a winding stretch between mountains on one side and the drop-off to the ocean on the other. Yet the driver managed to check texts on not one, but two cell phones. I’d thought about asking him to put at least one phone away, but decided against it – not only his English seemed to be limited to basic numbers and pointing, he seemed already sufficiently angry. I did not feel like finding out what his driving would be like if he was royally pissed off at some tourist telling him what to do.

We’ve now checked into our supposedly 4.5 star hotel, which looks like a Roman palace on the outside, and like a dingy 80’s motel on the inside. I’ve already found a wiggly worm in my bathtub, which looks suspiciously like a human parasite. Staff moved us to another, equally dingy room, and assured me that the supposed parasite is actually an adorable and crafty red worm which navigated its way from the soil, up the drainpipes, and into the tub on the first floor. Doesn’t matter, one way or another, it’s not a kind of assassin worm I want to get acquainted with.

Sorry, looks like there will be no silver lining in this particular post. I’ve had cookies and cream ice cream, maybe that counts? I will try harder tomorrow.



Filed under General thoughts

Going down to Vietnam, gonna have myself a time!

By the time you read this here stream of consciousness, I will be on a plane or perhaps already in the exotic far-away lands. Vietnam feels like an odd choice for our pre-honeymoon, at least for me – having spent half of my life in the Soviet Union, and the other half in the US, I’m used to the stories about Vietnam being all about “smell of napalm in the morning” and “Charlies in the trees”. That was half a century ago, though, so things have changed – I’m going to spend two-and-a-half weeks in the lap of luxury, eating awesome cheap food and getting awesome cheap massages.

I’m hoping for an easy trip with aghm, a very budget airline…and that I don’t freak out the way I sometimes do, when it suddenly occurs to me just how ridiculous it is to be hurtling through the air in a sardine can…

I’m also hoping to detox a bit from my addiction to social media, so I might be sparse and not answering comments as I usually do. I will try to stay true to form and post updates on the promos I got scheduled – if not on the blog, then at least on Twitter.

Please don’t forget to enter the free cover design contest or the free Goodreads giveaway – both end on 31 December. Otherwise, enjoy your various holidays, and see you in 2016!


Filed under General thoughts