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Up and Down in Vietnam

Author: Brian W Fisher (More Trip Reviews by Brian W Fisher)
Date of Trip: November 2013

Enough about this hotel. What about the town itself? It now boasts a new, large airport with wide roads leading to and from Nha Trang. And here lies yet another problem for both visitors and locals alike.

An ex-pat Australian explained, thus...
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 2014.

Digging a little deeper, I learned that package deals offered to Russian tourists, including flights and accommodation were available for as little as US $700. Airfares alone from the UK can be twice that amount. I began to wonder whether such a staggering differential was the reason for the type of Russian tourist 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!!! Ha ha!) and have toured over 40 countries in both packaged and own arrangement categories, Nha Trang certainly turned upside-down every interaction with people of many races, I'd ever encountered.

Apparently, bottles (uncountable) of a clear alcoholic beverage starting with the letter 'V' was the tipple of choice – and when mixed with the cheap, strong, easily available local beer, the results of overindulgence were visible everywhere.

Scenes of altercation were not uncommon and on one evening nudged even me into reacting, when an inebriated individual, perhaps around forty years of age, began berating, in his own language (I'll leave you to guess which) and obviously frightening a number of young Vietnamese people who were sat dining around one large table in a restaurant close to my hotel.

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 asked, with a mixture of words and signs, to please quieten himself down and leave the young folk alone.

Now what?
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 with my left hand and pulled it towards me - and almost simultaneously connected my right elbow with the underside of his chin.
Hmmm!!! Result? One horizontal idiot with a broken jaw.

The restaurant's proprietor refused to give me a bill - the young folk kind of applauded. I managed an apologetic grin - and left.

The next morning (bright and very early – missing breakfast) I – sporting a large yellowish/blue elbow - along with a few other like-minded tourists, boarded a boat at the nearby dockyard and left for some offshore islands famous for their coral formations.
We'd all booked through a European-run Diving Company named Rainbow Divers, which came highly recommended for its professionalism and stringent safety practices.

Prohibited from scuba diving following a couple of heart problems, I (and two disgracefully fit and energetic Austrian guys) were content to don masks, snorkels and flippers and paddle on the surface watching the more intrepid divers go through their paces below.

It was a great half day trip. There were indeed shoals of fish darting amongst the coral formations – the only downside, that being the passage of Typhoon Haiyan a few days earlier, which had clouded the water. Nevertheless, both divers and snorkelers had plenty to talk about on the way back to the harbour.
Nah Trang is expanding fast! Would I return as part of a Vietnam tour? Probably not. There are many more interesting places to visit.

Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon if you prefer?)
Wow! What a city. Thinking that nowhere could there be more motorbikes and scooters than in Hanoi, the sheer volume and speed of them in Saigon was truly staggering. “Number one lesson,” my guide said to me on leaving the airport... “when you step off pavement to cross road - you never must stop...please to keep walking straight – all motorbikes go around you. If you stop, there will be big accident.” How about that for an opening gambit?

Safely (?) inside the confines of a Toyota mini van, I watched in amazement as the driver somehow navigated the swarms of two-wheeled vehicles - all seemingly hellbent on reaching a chosen destination ahead of any others and totally ignoring road signs and even traffic lights. 'Pandemonium' would be a fair description – yet in three days (and three nights) I never saw a single accident.

I was greeted with the utmost curtesy on arrival at the Signature Saigon Hotel. Officially three star branded, I would certainly endorse many comments made by fellow guests, that the hotel deserved its rating. The staff here had been well schooled and were totally efficient in carrying out their duties.

It was a busy hotel, located as it was, a few minutes walk one way to the city's cracking night market and plethora of restaurants, whilst a similar distance walk in the opposite direction led to the wide and well used River Saigon.

The state of my bone joints would not fare well if I tried to experience the confines of the Cu Chi Tunnels – the incredible underground network constructed by Vietnamese fighters during the long struggle for independence, so I gave them a miss.

Instead, I made visits to the War Remnant Museum - a stark reminder of man's inhumanity to man – the Notre Dame Cathedral (no guessing who built that edifice) – the Post Office with its remarkable architecture and the Jade Emperor Pagoda. All are well worth seeing.

No tour of Vietnam would be complete without experiencing the Mighty Mekong, what it carries and how so many people live on it and at each side of it. I spent most of one day in boats of different sizes witnessing the diverse occupations of those who rely upon its constant movement and what it can (and does) provide. On occasion, I ventured ashore, was invited into the river-folk's meagre homes, helped prepare and cook spring rolls – ate some of course - watched local villagers dance, sing and play musical instruments which I had never before seen.

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