The 'Cyrillic' InvasionAuthor: Brian W Fisher (More Trip Reviews by Brian W Fisher)
Date of Trip: November 2013
The short flight from Hue on Vietnam Airlines got me to Nha Trang. I was looking forward to somewhat of a more relaxed schedule and perhaps even a half day diving or snorkelling among the pristine coral reefs offshore (more about Rainbow Divers in a separate review).
Half a century ago this coastal town was an important base for the American war machine during their involvement in Vietnam's civil war. The aircraft runways they built during the 1960s are still visible, a stark reminder of what the payloads of the bombers contained.
Today, the city and its districts are becoming a somewhat of a Mecca for tourists from many parts of the world – demonstrated by the brand new airport located a few miles away.
Having arrived at my reserved hotel, The Hanoi Golden, located smack in the centre of 'Downtown Action' just as daylight was giving way to street lights and neon signs, I delayed my usual hotel walkabout inspection until the following morning.
Quickly unpacked and showered, I ventured outside and trawled the area's two main streets (Nguyen Thien Thuat and Hung Vuong) to get a feel of the place. No doubting it was popular – the density of European tourists milling around and the crowded restaurants were testament to that.
Right from the start I was aware of the many signs and hoardings sporting Cyrillic letters. A little probing of an Ex-pat Australian retail proprietor, soon revealed why.
The Vietnam government had agreed to allow a Russian Charter Company, Pegas (Turkish owned) to operate 72 direct flights per month from Russia to Nha Trang. Some 4500 Russian tourists per week have been landing there since October 2013, with a total of over 100,000 expected by April of this year (up 57%).
Digging a little deeper, I easily learned that package deals offered to Russian tourists, including return flights and hotel accommodation, can be bought for less than US$700. At say 1.6 to the £, that amounts to around £470.
Airfares alone from the UK can be £1200. Is such a staggering differential the reason for the type of Russian tourists I encountered during my three night stay?
I suppose I should tell you that I am in my 81st year (but believe I'm still in my early 50s!!!) and have toured over 40 countries in both packaged and own arrangement categories, Nha Trang certainly turned upside-down every interaction with people of all races, I'd ever encountered.
Apparently, bottles (uncountable) of a clear alcoholic beverage starting with the letter 'V' was the tipple of choice – the results of overindulgence visible everywhere. Scenes of altercation were not uncommon and on one occasion nudged even me into reacting, when an inebriated individual began berating and threatening a party of young Vietnamese women in a cafe.
Remembering the old adage that, 'evil can only happen if good men stand aside and let it' (or some such phrase), I, with a degree of trepidation, faced the individual and told him to quieten down and leave the young folk alone.
He glowered at me and without warning, swung a right-handed haymaker at my head. Instinctively, my 65 year old army training kicked in. I grabbed his wrist and pulled it towards me with my left hand - and connected my right elbow with his chin.
Hmmm...one horizontal idiot with a broken jaw.
The restaurant's proprietor refused to give me a bill, the young folk kind of applauded as I managed a grin and leave.
Back to the hotel. Similar to the one in Hue, the Hanoi Golden was fairly new, was rated as 3 star, had fifteen floors, a bar, a restaurant and a small swimming pool on a high terrace surrounded by a timber deck.
What differed from all the previous hotels I'd stayed in during my tour, was that it proved to be almost dysfunctional. Staff were undertrained in dealing with the everyday needs of guests. The hotel lobby on most mornings was crowded with arriving guests who's rooms were not ready for occupation.
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