The road from Da Lat to Nha Trang was long and winding, but interesting. The scenery went from lush to desert-like to salty before we ever saw the ocean. But once we did, I was so grateful to be out of the mountains and back in the tropics.
Nha Trang is a breath of fresh air coming from Vietnam's south. It's a major coastal town and has that bright, lofty, pastel air about it. In fact, the city reminds me a lot of Santa Monica, Calfornia, which is weird. It's not like I didn't try to get as far away as possible or anything.
Nha Trang's beach is slightly dirty and you'll never have it to yourself, but the water is warm and calm, you can rent a couple of chairs under a thatched roof for a couple bucks, and the fruit lady never wanders too far off. I was wondering how the whole beach culture vibe was going to work, given the obvious aversion Vietnamese people have to the sun. But it's all good, they just flock to the beach when the sun goes down.
Lay on the beach, read, rinse, repeat. That's all we did for a few days. It rocked.
But then we got bored. Brendan had a bright idea to rent a motorbike, which really did seem like a good idea at the time. Once he was driving and I was hanging off the back for dear life, my change of heart was remarkable.
About five minutes into the ride from hell (it wasn't really hell but I'm deathly afraid of motorcycles, and then there I am riding on the back of one sans helmet like some floozy who doesn't know any better), the bike stalled out. In the middle of an intersection, mind you. We walked it to safety on the side of the road, where as luck would have it, a very nice man took pity on us and went to work trying to fix the engine.
The final verdict was that we ran out of gas. Five minutes after renting the motorcycle we ran out of gas. The fuel gauge said full. That's Vietnam for you.
Eventually, we managed to fill up the tank and continue on our way. We rode up to Nha Trang's Cham towers, visited a monastery, and worshipped our first giant Buddha. It turned out to be a pretty good day!
Our Vietnam Rough Guide suggested a place about an hour north of Nha Trang called Jungle Beach Resort, promising a better coastline with less traffic. After several days of being completely spoiled by surf and sun, looking for perfection was really the only logical choice we had left. So we packed up and headed up to Jungle Beach.
Even though it's called a resort, Jungle Beach is more like a tropical campsite. Guests sleep in open-air bamboo huts without electricity and share bathrooms. The place has the potential to be a five-star joint, but there's an allure to its modesty. For $15 per person per night, you have your run of the place and three delicious meals prepared by the owners and their staff. Hands down the best food we've had in all of Asia. I was torn between thanking my lucky stars that I was temporarily living in utopia (that little speck out in the water is me) and wishing our hut had A/C. I know that sounds selfish, but I must stress how hot it was. Like an oven at 7 am. A wet oven.
The owner, Sylvio, recently spotted a group (pack? tribe? gaggle?) of monkeys living in the mountains nearby, and now primate researchers from all over the world are coming to Jungle Beach to study them. Apparently there aren't monkeys like these monkeys anywhere else on Earth and experts are sort of freaking out about the discovery. At dusk, Sylvio would spot a monkey or two with binoculars and yell for anybody who wasn't still out swimming to come take a look. One evening I saw baby monkeys and almost cried.
Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to Jungle Beach after five days of bliss. Even though we're traveling for a year, the world is a big place full of many more utopias. Though the rickety old bus we tried to sleep on during the twelve-hour journey north to Hoi An was definitely not one of them.
Hoi An itself, however, is fabulous. Can you believe I'm actually caught up and writing this blog while still technically inside Hoi An? Hooray! Anyway, the town is cute, dusty, and awfully charming. It's known mostly for its local art galleries and tailor shops which line the streets to the point of redundancy, though somehow the place manages not to feel too tacky. We took the bait and bought a framed painting to ship back home, Brendan got a suit made, and I walked away with a silk jacket or three.
Many of the hotels here are cheap and dumpy, but we splurged ($25/night) on a moderately luxurious one with a pool. B can usually be found in or near the pool between breakfast and dinner. I, on the other hand, am usually hanging out in the lobby enjoying free wifi. The hotel staff must think I'm the most boring person alive. It's kind of embarrassing.
Being completely flat and without a lot of motorized traffic, Hoi An's the perfect place to ride a bicycle. Today we rented two bikes and rode about 5 miles out to Cua Dai beach, which was nice but not spectacular after Jungle Beach (though we did have the whole thing to ourselves). Afterwards, we pedaled back into town and killed a few hours taking pictures and drinking lassis. Today was technically our last day of leisure in Vietnam, since tomorrow morning we head into Laos! I'm so excited. The bus leaves at 7 am and 30 hours later we should roll safe and sound into Savannakhet. Here's hoping.
PS- There's a "Huff" marathon on HBO in our hotel room right now. Best show ever. Who's with me?