Dives & drives, Nha Trang, Vietnam
I’m finding it hard to believe we’ve been in Vietnam for over two weeks already, the differences between everywhere we’ve been, the Mekong, Ho Chi Minh city, Phu Quoc and Nha Trang have been pronounced almost as if they are each different countries, which I suppose is to be expected with a history as rich with changing borders and migrations as Vietnams.
After a lovely few weeks coming and going from HCM we were headed to our next stop in Nha Trang some 400 kilometres up the coast. The nine hour train journey from Ho Chi Minh City compared to our hellish night on the train from Bagan to Yangon was a dream! Following advice and information on the fantastic train travel blog http://www.seat61.com/ We’d booked lower berths in a soft sleeper carriage for the journey which was clean and spacious and did I mention CLEAN 😉 we were joined by two Vietnamese gentlemen who had the upper berths and soon after we pulled away from HCM at eight thirty pm we all settled down to read then sleep and the night passed quickly, relatively quietly and comfortably, all very civilised.
At five thirty am when we arrived in Nha Trang as the day was just waking up there were Vina Sun taxis waiting at the station, the most reliable and trustworthy company in Vietnam and we were soon on the way to our hotel. We had booked a room from the previous night to ensure we could go straight back to bed for a few more hours, forgetting entirely that things rarely run that smoothly and today certainly did not. We’d chosen the Sunny Hotel, just off the main drag, with a rooftop pool and only 200 metres from the beach. The night reception was having a nap when we arrived and even though we kept saying we’d booked a room from the night before he kept telling us we’d have to wait. After a while of looking through todays bookings we were able to convince him to look at yesterdays, where surprise surprise he found ours and we were soon thankfully on the way to our room. Which was modern, bright and large and stank like an ashtray, nope nope nope can’t do it, I’m not a fussy cow, and neither is J, smoking hotels are a thing of the past in most places so we’ve not encountered this before, the stench was so strong there was simply no way we could have stayed in that room, so back to reception we went with our bags in tow. After a little more waiting and the morning creeping on, so happy we’d paid for a night we were not now going to get to use we were shown to a side back room with the tiniest window and by the sounds of it under the store room and next to the staff stairway, oh dear no! Back to reception J went returning with the news that we’d be moved at two pm when another room became free. Long story short after they refused to move us and a call to Booking.com we have ended up in the An Vista, the Sunny’s sister hotel next door which is so new it’s not even finished yet, which means it is at least clean and the staff are lovely. I’ll put a link in to my review on tripadvisor once posted as while it is lovely it’s already got some issues, not least of which is the music that starts in the hallways at six thirty am to the tune Colonel Bogeys March that ‘Hitler has only got one ball’ used to be sung to. No I’m not sure how I know that either but clearly I do as I start to sing along as soon as the music wakes me up, anyway the point is it’s clean and light and they’re my two major wants so I’m happy.
Having been thwarted by low visibility in our plan to dive several times in Phu Quoc we were looking forward to trying again in Nha Trang only to face the same problem, at least that’s what Sailing Club Divers told us when we called in. So we left our number for them to call when visibility improved. After a few days and really quite keen to get in the water we called back but were told nope, still not diving so we called another of the dive companies we had researched when we arrived, Vietnam Active. Our criteria for choosing a dive company is that they must be PADI certified centres, preferably 5 star and have great reviews, reviews are very telling about attitude and safety which is obviously paramount when diving. Vietnam Active told us while the visibility wasn’t fantastic it was five to seven metres and we were welcome to join them for a two dive day, which we arranged to do with a seven forty am collection the next day, late enough not to break our no early mornings rule. And while price should never be the deciding factor when choosing a dive company, we were happy to be told after we’d booked that they were running a promotion with twenty dollars off per person, so fifty five USD per person for two dives and lunch each, sweet!
We were picked up next morning by Kari and a mini bus full of divers and snorkelers and made our way to the boat five minutes or so away in the crowded harbour. Being clumsy getting on and off boats is always the most dangerous time for me but this one, despite first appearance was a doddle, a step up onto one of the big old car tyres being used as a fender and then onto the wide boat edge and down again. All safely loaded up we headed to the first site about forty five minutes away, which sounds like we’d be going miles out but actually wasn’t that far, the boat was just really slow, which is not a complaint, it was a lovely ride out giving us a chance to get fully briefed and to enjoy the view and provided fruit. Anchored at Pipe Beach with a few other dive boats, I was surprised to see Sailing Club Divers boat next to ours, ah well maybe they just weren’t that into me as my trip advisor review posits. We were diving with another couple, Ben and Emily with Tan and George as our dive guides and all kitted out in we went, it was FREEZING even in a long wetsuit 21 degrees is testing the limits of my love of diving, by the end of the second dive, both of which were nice easy fun dives with five to seven metres visibility and some nice things to see, my arms had begun to cramp I was so cold, sheesh it was no wonder Tan was wearing three wetsuits ha! Cold aside every time I dive I feel so incredibly happy, so privileged to be witness to this other world, I LOVE IT many people say it’s peaceful which I have never found, there are all sorts of wonderful noises going on, not least the sound of your own breath through the Darth Vader sounding regulator (they actually used a dive regulator for his heavy breathing don’t you know). Our air consumption gets better all the time meaning we get to stay down longer and I learn something on every dive we do. All the diver crew were great, helpful and interactive and the do it yourself baguette lunch was perfect as was sitting on the dive boat roof soaking up the sun as we headed back to the harbour.
The next day we were up bright and early to dive again, this time with Vitaly and George as guides and I had the sense to wear a long and a shorty wetsuit, I wouldn’t have believed the difference it makes and was toasty warm compared to the day before. We are not diving at peak season and visibility will continue to improve for the next few months but having been out of the water and not seen anything in Phu Quoc it was LOVELY to see amongst others shoals of razor fish, our totem Toby fish, who we look out for on every dive and saw in abundance, snake like pipefish a relation of seahorses, box and puffer, trumpetfish and the ever irresistible nemo. Vietnam Active run a safe, professional and fun to dive with boat and although I take issue with dive guides picking up sea life, they all seem to do it so nothing different here.
We’re in Nha Trang for another few days thankfully as we haven’t done much exploring as the times we haven’t been diving have been spent going back and forth to the laptop repair shop after my hard drive died, as well as getting my dive medical done in preparation for my Dive Master training in a few months. We plan to explore even a little, a night market visit is surely a must, although for the most part Nha Trang is not typical Vietnam or somewhere to come for the culture, it looks like a cross between South Beach, Miami and Cannes in the South of France with swathes of lovely beachfront covered in sun beds with beachside pools. It is not known as Little Russia for nothing, Europeans really are in the minority here and I would say the Russians even outnumber the Vietnamese there are so many of them enjoying the beach life.
We’re fast approaching the end of our ninth month of travel, I could have made a baby in that time *dry heaves* thankfully I didn’t, we’ve instead made just as big a life change; our recently discovered love of diving will be with us forever opening up a new world professionally as well as recreationally and maybe most importantly environmentally Xx
Note: We’ve been using Vietnam Impressive for all of our travel needs within Vietnam and have found them to be excellent, responsive and very competitively priced.