Apparently my roommates made a tremendous amount of noise last night – however I was so dead to the world I never noticed.
Today my fellow travellers from Sunflower were planning to go to the Vinpearl waterpark, and the night before had decided to get up and leave at 7:30 to make sure they’d get there with plenty of time.
However, last night clearly took them out – because my 7am alarm was met with resounding wails and complaints. Come 8:30, I’m the only one up.
They do all eventually crawl out of bed (save one, who ends up sleeping the entire day), and slowly make their way through the motions of getting dressed. I on the other hand, knowing I’m not going to the waterpark, decide to go see the temples and churches marked on the map. They’re all pretty far away though, and I really don’t want to hire a motorbike and driver, so I decide to try and find a place where I can rent a bicycle.
Easier said than done. Everywhere offers up motorbikes for rent, but not normal bikes. Which is a bit ironic considering tourists can’t legally drive motorbikes in Vietnam without a specific visa and documentation.
I did eventually find a place, but all of the bikes were in terrible shape, so I just kept on going. The next place still had bikes in poor condition, but still looked pretty well maintained. And at 20,000 dong for the day, doubted I’d get a better deal, so I handed over the cash, and took ‘Ashy’ off to the beach.
Its been a while since I’ve been on a bike that wasn’t designed for exercise, and even longer since I’ve been on roads in a town that doesn’t have cycle lanes. Not made any easier by the fact that not everyone follows the rules and you have to account for people going the wrong way or generally walking out on you. I didn’t get a helmet either, which meant a lot of the time if I wasn’t sure what to do, I got off and walked the bike where I needed to go rather than risk it. A very wise decision when I discovered Ashy’s breaks weren’t very good at all.
Bad new? I found this out at the very worst time you can find your brakes don’t work.
Good news? The bin and the bike took more damage than I did.
I cycled almost as North as I could go, heading up towards the first point of interest I could see. This turned out to be Po Nagar Tower.
When I got there, I was surprised to find there was a downside to biking everywhere. The tourist areas had designated parking, and you had to pay for it. Thankfully this place was just 1,000, but still an unfortunate surprise. The Po Nagar Tower is a thing of beauty – never seen architecture like it in Vietnam, but unfortunately, all the signs are in Vietnamese, so I could only look at it without appreciating the history. When I got home, did a little more research – its a Cham temple, was built some time in 781 and dedicated to Yan Po Nagar, the Goddess of the country at that time, who would later become associated with certain Hindu Goddesses.
Tower is slightly misleading, there are 3 sections, all of which you need to take your shoes off to enter, and have only 1 very small room with a temple within. There’s very little you can actually get into. However, the secondary appeal of the temple is the location. Its pretty high up, and as such, the views from the cliff edge of Nha Trang are pretty awesome.
Since I clearly wasn’t getting the cultural significance of this beautiful-but-no-explanation temple, I headed down and staked out the local area for lunch. Ended up eating street food when I passed a woman making quails egg omelettes with squid and shrimp – they smelled unbelievable. The squid wasn’t great, but I downed all but one piece, so guess it was a success.
The next stop was the Long Son Pagoda, which wasn’t too far away on the map. Along the way stopped off for cake (Vietnam bakeries are the best), and had to part with a 10,000 dong for parking!
Long Son Pagoda’s biggest draw is the giant buddha at the top of the hill. Unfortunately I found this place to be very unpleasant, because despite being a beautiful Buddhist temple, the thing I remember most is the beggars. They are EVERYWHERE. From tiny little kids to children in wheelchairs to war victims to woman with babies to elderly woman. And there’s no getting away from them – they line the steps and follow you around (the children are the worst for this), and if you give to one, you better do it out of sight of the others because they cannot be shaked. Frankly donating was the last thing I wanted to do, as it meant opening my bag, and around professional beggars like this, that seemed like a dumb idea. So yeah, the statue was incredible, but I wanted out of there.
The sun was getting high by this point, and I’d hit most of what you could see in the North, so headed back to the centre of town, and almost-on-accident found my third place of interest when I was looking for a place to rest up for a bit. Nha Trang Cathedral.
Very much a western building (and endearing to me to no end for having no parking fees), this cathedral is on a hill like everything else I’ve visited, and is a very beautiful building. Especially since its quite unlike anything else in its vicinity. Couldn’t go inside, but did get to walk around and appreciate the tower and the windows.
I’d been on the bike for a while by this point, so cycled back to the beach and enjoyed the scenery until I got back to the hostel (to a delighted reception – seriously, these girls are just so happy and hyper all the time). My sleeping roommate still isn’t feeling all that great, clearly last night damn near killed her, so keep the conversation short and my antics down.
However, I’ve got that bike all day and I’m determined to get my money’s worth. So once I’m suitably rested up, I go out again, this time heading South just to see how far I can get. This is less sight-worthy because people by the beach will chase you off the pavement and back onto the road, and that means biking on the other side. However, the further you go out of the city, the more countryside you get to see. Knew there were some hills and mountains down this section, but wasn’t aware it was this photogenic.
To my surprise, my bike trip is cut short as the road literally stops dead when you get to the car park for Vinpearl. There’s no way around it, so clearly I’ll have to go back the way I came. When I bike down the road, I head back towards the harbour and spot a sign for the Oceanography Museum. I still have plenty of time to kill, and ticket’s about 30,000 (with free parking) so figure it can’t hurt to go in and see whatever’s on display.
Actually ends up being better than expected. Its more an aquarium than a museum to start with, beginning with giant tanks including tropical fish, manta rays and sharks. They also have 2 sections further in – one with sea turtles, and another with a sea lion. That one I took photos of mostly to report to International animal welfare – that habitat did not look anywhere near large enough for a sea lion.
The next section was a room filled with different tanks of fish, and then into a more museum-esque part. Here included a whale and manatee skeleton, both having been dug up or washed ashore in Vietnam. Further in is an exhibit on artificial reefs, and then it goes into the pure museum part. That said, the ‘museum’ part included mostly stuffed fish/sea mammals in between the fake sculptures. The final part is a room filled with shelves of specimen jars…a little bit weird to walk through.
Know the group at the water park aren’t going to be back for a while, and I have the bike until 10, so decide to keep on biking – this time going as far North as I can. Its a much better ride since I’m now in the right direction to appreciate the beach. There was no real location in mind – I just kept going until it started to get substantially dark, and I could find a good place to turn onto the opposite road.
Remember how chaotic the roads of Vietnam have been? They actually get worse at night. I had been getting pretty confident at handling the roads but they were a completely different beast once the sun went down. Twice as many bikes, dozens of buses and pedestrians bolting left and right. You have to be frightfully vigilant, and I had so many close calls. Clearly its time to ditch the bike – which I do, and walk back home. My thighs are going to feel this exercise tomorrow.
When I get back, I meet up with sleepy roommate and have a fast shower, intending to get some food. However, just as we’re about to leave, in come the waterpark crew – and those plans get pushed back an hour. End up in a restaurant called ‘The Local’ where I ended up having a cheeseburger (fine, yes, judge me all you want – it was the cheapest thing on the menu). I’m spotting a heavy flaw in hanging out with a group of people – if your budgets aren’t the same, you end up spending more than you want to for company. The burger was slightly red inside though, so ended up leaving a chunk of it to the side.
No wild parties or bar tonight – nobody’s up for it, and I’m happy to have a long, long lie.