16 Feb 2008
Nha Trang, Vietnam
12°14'43.72"N 109°11'45.39"E
23°

 

We had the best journey here on an overnight sleeper bus - no chairs, just bunks. Apart from an unpleasant awakening when the driver decided he wanted to have super loud duff duff music in the middle of the night, and had to be chastised, it was amazing. As a bonus, as well as being a 10 hour journey, at US$10 each it was cheaper than a hotel. We arrived at 6am and walked to a guesthouse very close to where the bus had dropped us off which had been recommended to us. Unfortunately it was full, but we had a lovely cup of real coffee and they let us leave our bags whilst we looked around for somewhere to stay. I was still in full-on aggro mode (see previous entry if you haven't already), getting worse by the hour and got into a couple of arguments with hotel touts who just wouldn't leave us alone - even though we didn't have our bags, the only people wandering around Nha Trang at 6.30 am have just arrived on the overnight bus, and the touts, all 10,000 of them, know it. One kept following us. For about 3 blocks. I told him I'd have him arrested for stalking me if he didn't bugger off. He wasn't going to, but I gave him my special look and away he went.

We checked out dozens of hotels, but the best ones (with free Wi-Fi) were full (5%) or outrageously overpriced (95%). After a few hours we found the C30, which was good, clean, free Wi-Fi, cheap and in a good location. In case you're not following the accommodation reviews, check out here for what happened when an idiot tried to treat me like a fool then laughed at me. Literally. He was such an idiot. He was looking on my laptop and saying broken - you don't have icon for Internet Explorer. I told him that like a lot of serious computer users, I'd only use Internet Explorer if Firefox, Opera, Avant and even poor old Netscape which has now been officially put to sleep failed on me. I don't have an icon or a link in the Start bar or Menu or anything. If I had to open it, I'd have to go into Windows Explorer, find it and click it. He was very firmly and very competently put into his place. Fully deserved - you really need to read the hotel review for the full story on why it was so deserving. And to find out why I was in just the right mood when I went out looking for a laundry but found something much more interesting to do.

Two or three doors down from the hotel I came across TM Brothers Travel Agency's Nha Trang office. I won't go into that one again, but if you haven't already, hit previous to get the nightmare waiting for the bus story. I sat down and said I had a problem with our overnight bus trip. The woman behind the desk didn't really seem to care, so I tried again. Madam. I Would Like To Register A Complaint. A middle aged couple (who I didn't realise at the time but were also complaining) must have been old John Cleese fans judging by the smiles on their faces. I went through the events of the previous night. She didn't care. I went through the events of the night before again. Very slowly. She still wasn't interested. I went through the events of the night before again. With a full stop in between each word. The middle aged couple were just about falling off their chairs laughing. She called someone else over, and I went through the whole thing again. Quickly, slowly and then with full stops between words. She shrugged her shoulders. You go now. Busy. Customers waiting. I looked behind me - there were too. Two sets of them. "Don't" is the only word I said, and out they went. You go now. No. You go now. No. For the first time in a couple of weeks, I was actually having a bit of fun.

More customers walked in. I turned around. "Don't"

They didn't leave though. They had a complaint to register too. In fact, during the 45 minutes I amused myself in the office, alternating aggro and polite requests to register a complaint, a total of 5 couples and one single traveller plus myself were there to complain. I was also amusing most of the others too - they were almost all were English, although the Germans didn't quite get it. One couple, in their 60's had been on a bus with a very delayed start and were dropped off in the small seaside town they were heading for at 2am. Like us, they hadn't made prior bookings (expecting to get there early enough to check out a couple of places before choosing one). Being a small town with small hotels, nothing was open. They spent the next 4 hours sitting on a bench near the beach until a cafe opened. One oddity here - it's incredible to think that only 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers were ever filmed. Sad, but true, I can quote almost all of them word for word. Apparently I'm not the only one. When the Germans came in to complain about the unacceptable quality of a tour they'd just done, the man in his 60's stage whispered to me not to mention the war, which everyone except the German couple thought was hilarious. They weren't offended, just baffled. And to think we now have a generation growing up on Pop Idol and Big Brother.

Of course I'll send a letter of complaint - all I really wanted when I went in to the office was to vent a bit of steam and get the name of the person at their head office who I should address it to, but they wouldn't give it to me. One of the couples complaining was an English woman with a a Vietnamese husband, and she told me I had no chance of getting a name, they just wouldn't do it, no matter how long I stayed. And of course, whoever ends up getting the letter will ignore it, so the only thing for me to do is to make my letter of complaint an open one. I've already started drafting it, and I'll post it on every travel forum on the internet, as well as sending it to the government tourism authority, who seem to be just waking up to the fact that big dollars can be made by opening up this beautiful country to tourists. You might call it a waste of time, but I rather enjoyed myself. Sweet revenge. I scared off a total of 9 prospective customers before I got bored with it (and remembered I had to get the laundry in before it was too late). Also, I fired up the other people who were complaining, who maybe would have been a bit more accepting of the bad service without being egged on. At one point, one of the male employees looked as though he was going to physically remove me from my chair. He got a special, special, look and changed his mind. I felt a lot better after that. In fact, it seemed to cure me of the aggro's altogether

Anyway, the following day, after finding a fantastic hotel to change to, we roamed around town and found that there really isn't much in Nha Trang apart from an incredibly nice beach, lots of western pubs and restaurants, beauty salons, English tourists and tailors. And touts. They drive you crazy. And unlike Saigon, Nha Trang is purely a tourist town. As such, it seems that every single person is trying to rip you off. Double, triple and even quadruple prices for a bottle of water or a kilo of oranges. Last night we went for banana's - they sell them by the hand not the kilo. I asked how much. 30,000. I smiled. 20,000. I shook my head and started to walk away. 10,000. Still almost double the price I should have paid, but I've had the stomach bug from hell for the past few days (probably on purpose from some waiter I'd pissed off for being incompetent) and needed something to give me a vitamin hit - we've been taking multi-vitamin tablets every day since we left as we know we won't be eating properly all the time, but we ran a few days ago and I don't trust them here to give me the right thing.

After a marathon session with 4 lads from Skegness, mid twenties and calling Peter Uncle Pete - he had a day long hangover cure (no sympathy expected or received) at a gym/sauna/massage parlour. I went out on the hunt for a pharmacy. I had some Panadine tablets, but not many and I was running out. I had the box from Australia, so it should have been easy Very clearly stated 500mg Paracetemol, 10mg Codeine. There seemed to be only two pharmacies in Nha Trang, about 3km apart. I found the first one quite easily. No Have. Have these - same same. 500mg Paracetemol, 30mg Codeine. No thanks. I've taken some pretty serious narcotic painkillers during the drama's of my back (which apparently is about 20 years older than the rest of me) and Panadine Forte (the one with 30mg codeine) is the only thing that I wouldn't drive a car after taking. I've had massive doses of oxycontin and morphine (both much stronger versions of codeine) and driven myself to work without a problem, but those buggers, which are a long way down the pecking order of that class of drug, hit me like a full bottle of vodka. It makes no sense, I know, but it happens every time I take them. I went to the Golden Hotel next door and asked where the nearest pharmacy was - quickly explaining that the one next door didn't have what I wanted. He said the only other one was near the hospital. He said long, long way 2, maybe 3 kilometers. Should get taxi, but I said I'd rather walk. He gave me a map, drew a pencil path for me to follow and away I went. Then, I made a fatal mistake. About half way, I stopped and asked someone if I was going in the right direction. Just to check. No, no. This way. I went this way for a while and realised I was heading back towards the beach, then asked someone else. No, no. This way. One full hour after I'd got the map, I ended up back in front of the Golden Hotel. Away I started again, and after a 45 minute baby delay (more about this below), I made my way to the roundabout near the hospital. There was a small pharmacy there (I found the bigger one soon after and got what I needed), and I showed her the box. As in Cambodia and to a slightly lesser exent in Thailand, perscriptions don't seem to be necessary, but make sure you check what you're getting - the pharmasist in the small place tried to give me the heavy duty Panedines, then when she realised I didn't want them, something with a generic name which was nothing like anything I'd heard of before. It could have killed me. If it wasn't a fake, of course

RANT WARNING: Backpackers are going into fair dinkum pharmacies in Cambodia and buying mega doses of Oxycontin, Dicodin and Codeine only to find later that they've been given a sugar tablet or aspirin or something worse which could make them quite ill. We can laugh at backpackers trying to get high on aspirin, but there was recently a massive shipment of fake malaria pills being sold - people bought them, caught malaria and died. Buying fakes isn't good. Everyone knows your Rolex and Raybans and Gucci bag and probably even your Nike and Adidas stuff are fake and nobody really cares about it, but it's all part of the fake industry that we really shouldn't support. As I said, people have died. I've made the decision not to buy fake stuff any more. I don't want to support any part of an industry that kills people. Not sure how much of a problem fake medication is in Vietnam - things seem a lot more organised (controlled) here and it's only over the counter even in western country stuff - probably not worth faking.

Anyway, on to the baby drama, and happily, the aggro stage has defiantly finished. It really must have been something in the water in Saigon. I had total and complete justification to go off BIG TIME at a French arsehole and I didn't. I remained totally calm throughout the entire ordeal. After doing my one hour circle of the back streets of Nha Trang, I set off searching for the hospital and could hear a baby crying down the bottom of the street. I don't mean crying, I mean CRYING. It took me a good 5 minutes to get to where he was, and he was still going. I know more about internal combustion engines than I know about babies, but I knew something wasn't right. Babies cry when they're hungry or when their nappies are full of disgusting smelly stuff. This baby wasn't hungry or smelly. It was hysterical. I looked around, helpless. Nobody. There was a small street stall, which wasn't really a stall but tubs of cheap plastic beads and bracelets and necklaces and the like laid out on the pavement, and a makeshift stall against the wall with more on top. The baby, maybe 6 months old was wedged partly behind the stall sitting in one of those 5 wheel things (what do I know?). I leaned over and tried to distract him by clapping my hands but it didn't work. Looked around again - nobody, apart from some people on a small food stall across the street who didn't seem remotely interested. I didn't want to, but I went around the back of stall and tried to hold his hand, rub his tummy, rub his back, rub his head - anything. Nothing was working. Then I looked around - the tubs of bracelets and things on the floor were all over - either someone had fallen and knocked a lot of stuff over, or something worse had happened. I really, really didn't want to take the baby out of the 5 wheel thing. Internal combustion engines are in motorcars. Babies are a complete mystery to me. I looked around again. Nothing. Nobody. Whoever had wedged the 5 wheel thing in had done a real good job - there was no way it was going to move. I took the baby out, and he calmed down a bit, but not much, and not for long. A couple walked by - late fifties, early sixties. I looked pleadingly at them. Nothing. Can you help me please? Eh? Something is wrong here. Shrug. Can you help me? There's something wrong with this baby. Shrug. There's nobody here to take care of him and there's something wrong. Shrug. At this stage, I'm thinking he can't understand me. Look, I said, pointing at the jewellery all over the pavement. Something bad has happened here. Shrug. His wife was actually walking away. Please do something to help me. I don't know what to do. The wife came back to pull him away from this obvious inconvenient interruption to their holiday, and they started walking off, with him saying what can I do? I said That's OK. You're right - it's not your problem. His wife looked at me, and whilst I'd remained totally calm and in control and hadn't raised my voice in the slightest and hadn't even been sarcastic when telling him it wasn't his problem, I gave her a special, special look. I know I shouldn't make assumptions, but these people probably have their 2 or 3 kids and 2 or 3 grandkids at home. How the hell could this woman ignore the baby, which was even more hysterical by now? She walked away again and he said to me you have to understand that these people aren't the same as us. They have different lives. What people? I asked, genuinely puzzled. I'm not talking about any people, I'm talking about a baby. The wife came back - the reserved-for-only-the-very-specialist-of-all-occasions-look had worked. She'd gone into the shop next door and brought out a sales girl, who took the baby from me and did a lot better job of calming him down than I had. She took him to her shop. Then off the French dogs went to enjoy the rest of their holiday.

I couldn't just go - the stock was all over the pavement, nobody was looking after it, so I started picking everything up and putting it into the tubs. I wasn't sorting it - not my job - just getting it of the street.

A man who had been talking to the food vendors over the road came over. He spoke a bit of English, and said OK, OK, mama come back soon. I told him I wanted to pick the things up for her. He said No, no, mama back soon. She fix. Then he told me that mama had no money to pay and mafia men came bash bash. Mafia? It's a tiny corner on a public pavement. A few minutes later, mama came back on her motorbike with a 7 or 8 year old girl on the back. The salesgirl from the shop must have been watching and brought the baby out, all smiling and eating a biscuit. I was speechless. I thanked the girl for looking after the baby, mama thanked me for looking after the baby and picking up her things. I couldn't believe what had happened. What kind of world do we live in? Is this the real world, or is the world we live in the real one?

Anyway, the best part about it is that while those complete bastards didn't care about anything that was going on, not once did I raise my voice, get angry or upset (I don't count giving her look, as I don't always realise I'm doing it).

Which means the aggro stage really is over. It really must have been something in the water or air in Saigon.

With the benefit of hindsight, I should have got the camera out. Taken a photograph of them. Got someone to translate the story into French and posted it with the photo's on every web site that I could find in France. Shame on them. I firmly believe in karma. What goes around, comes around. They'll get theirs sooner or later. And I hope it's everything they deserve.

I've been back a couple of times to see if she was OK, but someone else has taken her patch of pavement.

As for Nha Trang - OK for a nice beach, but there isn't much else to recommend it. It's a town totally for tourists, with more than it's fair share of people trying in on in a really serious way. The boys from Skegness had an open bus ticket, but they threw it away and took a flight out of here this afternoon. They were just as sick as us of being ripped off. Most nights, they were totally wasted, but last night two of them were a bit off colour. Because there were 2 sober ones, they checked the bill at the restaurant for the first time since they'd arrived. Apart from being charged for 2 extra meals, they were charged for 8 large bottles of beer more than they'd had. The meals were taken off the bill straight away, but they had to argue about the beer before getting the bill amended. They'd never checked the bills before because everything is so cheap here compared to England it isn't worth it, and they were always too drunk anyway - I always do, and find 'mistakes' so often that I always will. I also insist on having empty bottles left on our table after an incident a few years ago when we had to pay for 3 beers although Peter had only had 2 - we had no way of proving it. In Thailand, it's common practice - saves the staff keeping tabs, they just count the number of empties when you leave.

Although we did a bit of walking through the "real" town, way back from the beach, there wasn't anything of any interest there either that we could find, although the mark up on fruit was a lot more acceptable than in the tourist area. We've booked a sleeper bus back to Saigon tomorrow night. Can't wait. We're really here at the wrong time of year. We've come a bit too far north for February, It's been hovering around 20 degrees - great when the sun's out, but it's been pretty overcast most of the time we've been here, and quite chilly with the sea breeze.

Peter's out (not on the raz - he's had his alcohol quota for a couple of months and won't be trying to keep up with 25 year olds for quite a while) watching the Middlesborough Sheff United game. At least it's an early game, so he should be back by about midnight. He had the idea of phoning Timmy about an hour before the game started, knowing he'd be on his way or just getting there. Just as well he phoned. The game had just started. He didn't check the kick off time and it was 2pm not 3pm as it usually is. He ran out of the hotel to the bar next door where they have a giant screen, so at least he only missed the first 10 minutes and no goals. It's on the (small) TV here, and I'm sure I've just seen Tim. Peter said he'd told him he was right behind Schwarzer, and that's where he (or someone who looks very like him) was.