Nha Trang, Vietnam
The bus arrived around 1pm to Vietnam Austria to pick us up for the 5 and a half hour ride from Mui Ne to Nha Trang. What was different about this bus in relation to the last was that there was no assigned seating. Being some of the last to board to bus J.J. and I wound up with 2 seats over the back wheel and mine was awkwardly reclined without having the ability to adjust. Every time we hit a bump I was bounced forward and then back. Oh the joys of bussing around the world.
We arrived in Nha Trang just as it was getting dark and had a cab take us to our hotel, Hien Mai, where we checked in and got cleaned up for dinner. J.J. had read good things about Yen’s Vietnamese Restaurant on Trip Advisor which named it as one of the best places to eat in Nha Trang. I would tend to agree and highly recommend the fresh spring rolls (no shrimp) and bo pho (or beef pho).
After dinner we took a walk around town to get our bearings so that in the morning we’d have some idea where to go to look into scuba diving. We found the Sailing Club where we intended to book our scuba trip the following morning and walked back to our hotel through the lively streets which were lined with bars, restaurants, hotels and backpackers. Before crashing for the night we sent Olivia a Facebook message to see if she, Troy and Pato wanted to meet up in the morning.
We woke up relatively early and made our way downstairs for the breakfast of an entire loaf of French bread and eggs that was included in our room price. There, I checked my messages and found that Olivia had written us back. They proposed we visit Vinpearl, a nearby amusement park located on an island reachable by the world’s longest cable car ride over the ocean. We planned to meet at the Sailing Club after J.J. and I arranged our dives for the following day. For $50 USD each we would get 2 hour-long Fun Dives (just the dive master, J.J. and I as opposed to a 4-person group), food, drinks and transportation to and from the boat to the Sailing Club.
The 5 of us caught a taxi which drove us the 6km to the gondola that would take us to Vinpearl, but first stopped along the way so that we could purchase our tickets to the theme park. For 450,000 dong we had a round trip ride on the cable car, entrance to the park, unlimited access to the rides, water park, aquarium and arcade.
We started our day on the rides which are somewhere between the rides at Centreville and the Wonderland. We ended the rides with the swings and were all feeling dizzy and hot so we made our way to the water park. We purchased lockers for our dry clothes and shoes and spent hours racing down the slides, being spun and bounced around a 5-person inner tube, relaxing along the lazy river. Our time in the water park ended when we realized that Pato had lost the key to his locker on one of the particularly bouncy water slides. We searched the pools at the bottom of each of the slides, borrowing goggles from local Vietnamese kids but had no luck.
Because Pato couldn’t remember his locker number and because it was possible for anyone that happened to find his key to claim the contents of his locker we headed back to retrieve our things. By then it had begun to lightly rain and so we changed into dry clothes and decided to get some food before hitting the aquarium. Just like home amusement park food and drink is incredibly over-priced.
At the aquarium we got a sneak preview of what we might expect to see on our dives the following day – reef sharks, rays, eels, lobsters, clown fish, etc. My favourite part was the glass tunnel that you could walk through on a moving sidewalk that allowed the rays and sharks to swim overhead.
Just as the sun was beginning to set we lined up in the longest line of the day for the 2-man luge ride. J.J. sat in the back and steered while I tried my best to take photos of the amazing sunset taking place over the ocean in front of us. It was no easy task with all of the twists, turns, speed and abrupt stops which I’m sure comes through in the photos.
Next we hit the arcade which was definitely heaven on earth for J.J. due to the unlimited lives we all received as part of the one-time cost of 450,000 dong we’d paid that morning. They had any game you could imagine, including 2 mechanical bulls. I convinced J.J. to have a bull-riding competition and he was on the mats within seconds. The Vinpearl employee operating the bull’s movements seemed to have a great time bucking me around for the next 5 minutes. I know that doesn’t seem like long but my leg, arm and neck muscles would beg to differ. (Houstina and Clegger I don’t know how you girls did this while drinking in Scottsdale!)
Going back to Nha Trang it was dark and the towers of gondola were lit with white neon lights to make each one look like mini Eiffel Towers. We enjoyed a tired 10-minute ride back to the mainland before catching a taxi to take us back to town. J.J. and I split off from the group as we were staying at a different hotel. On our way back we stopped at Good Morning Vietnam for dinner – an odd name for an Italian restaurant. There, we had an amazing meal of pumpkin ravioli with a butter sage sauce – ravioli is something I had been missing from home so this was an awesome treat, though relatively pricey by backpacker standards for Vietnam.
Before going up to bed we decided to try to book a bus to Hoi An but had no luck. The guy at the front desk told us that all of the bus companies were closed for the evening and that we would have to try again in the morning before leaving for scuba.
In the morning we had a quick breakfast and again checked on the bus situation. Again we had no luck but gave the guy at the front desk our phone number so that he could text us if he managed to secure 2 tickets for the following morning’s bus. If not, we said we would walk around to some of the travel agencies to check for ourselves.
We left the hotel for the Sailing Club where we and the rest of the people on our dive boat were shuttled to the pier where we met our dive master for the day, a Vietnamese guy named Tahn. We got suited up, J.J. strapped on his GoPro camera, completed our buddy checks (I was surprised how much we remembered for not having dove in a year and a half!) and hit the open sea.
For the first 10 seconds, as with the first time I ever tried diving, I had a mini panic attack. Our first dive had us swimming through caves and despite my claustrophobia I didn’t have any trouble with this. The visibility was good and we saw lots of brightly coloured fish and coral but unfortunately no sharks, turtles or rays. Back on the boat I asked Tanh if we could expect to see any of those on our second dive and he told me that we wouldn’t because ‘anything big is killed’. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand why due to the language barrier but my best guess would be that they’re fished for.
After a lunch of chicken curry and rice and after discovering that J.J. had mistakenly thought he’d turned on his GoPro but in fact had turned it off, we took the boat to the second dive site of the day which was a reef site. We again geared up and this time made double sure the camera was on before jumping in the water. As we were descending I was unable to equalize my left ear. Stupidly I continued to descend and eventually encountered a pain so terrible that my eyes began to water inside my mask. Within 15 seconds the pain subsided, though I could feel that my ear still felt popped, but I was able to enjoy the dive.
Once back at the surface I remained unable to clear my left ear. From the Sailing Club where we were dropped off we decided to head back to the hotel to shower off the salt water. My ear was still bothering me and had begun to ache which in turn caused me to feel a bit unbalanced and nauseous. J.J. sweetly paid a visit to the Sailing Club to see if they had any recommendations and they pointed him to a nearby pharmacy where he purchased ear drops for swimmer’s ear.
Olivia, Troy and Pato had purchased a bus ticket to Hoi An for that night and since we wouldn’t be headed there until the following night we joined them while they had dinner and waited for their bus to arrive. When it was time for them to head back to their hotel to collect their bags we said our see-you-soon’s and made our way to a nearby restaurant called Lanterns that was recommended by Lonely Planet.
After dinner we visited a hostel called Backpackers where we were able to book a sleeper bus ticket to take us to Hoi An the following evening. We headed back to our hotel where I used the swimmer’s ear drops and in the morning I felt much better but still not 100%.
After breakfast at the hotel we packed up and checked out of our hotel, locking our bags together in the lobby where we would leave them until it was time for us to catch the bus to Hoi An. We decided to take a walk around since we’d spent little time in town during the days and were surprised to run into Olivia, Troy and Pato. Apparently the hotel had received a message the day before that they wouldn’t be able to get on the bus but had never passed it along to them. Instead they were told they’d have to take the bus the same night as us.
After agreeing to meet for dinner and to wait for the bus together J.J. and I headed to the restaurant at the Sailing Club located right on the beach. We had drinks (club soda and fresh fruit juice) and took advantage of the free wifi that was offered there until it was time to go back to our hotel. There we were able to use the staff shower before going to Backpackers to meet Olivia, Troy and Pato for dinner.
J.J. and I were picked up first and Olivia, Troy and Pato were told they were on a different bus. We wished them luck in getting to Hoi An and told them to send us a Facebook message to let us know if they had successfully made it. J.J. and I boarded the bus and found our seats. Instead of the individual lay down seats we were at the very back of the bus in a tight row of 5 lay down seats. Luckily we had the window and the seat next to it and not the middle seat which is the worst seat on the bus. We settled in for the 11-hour journey, but first a 1-hour stop for seemingly no reason about 5 minutes away from where we were picked up.