Dramatic changes strike us on the golden beach of Nha Trang since last being here over twenty years ago. High rise condo-hotels line the road like a mini-Miami beach. This once sleepy town has grown up. We book a sea view, studio condo for one whole month and are loving it.
Our arrival coincides with the celebration of the Vietnamese New Year “Tet.” While Tet shares origins with the Chinese New Year, the Vietnamese celebrate it with unique characteristics, such as the “Year of the Cat” designation for 2023, instead of China’s “Year of the Rabbit.” Vietnamese view the rabbit as a close cousin of the mouse, and they already have the year of the mouse. Thus, the year of the cat be that.
Speaking of Chinese, Vietnam is a tourist hotspot for them now, upon their recent release from a three-year Covid lockdown. They travel in loud hordes making up for lost time, similar to Marilynn and I, except for the loud hordes part. Just the two of us.
What surprises us more than anything is the overwhelming presence of Russian tourists. Obviously, they are not so welcome in Europe currently, and cheap flights from Moscow are frequent.
As a result of the change in tourist demographics, nobody speaks the English language, and few restaurants translate their menu in English. The US presence, dominant during our last visit 20+ years ago, has all but disappeared. Random smiles are rare, menus display in Russian and Chinese language, and bottles of vodka line the liquor store shelves.
What has not changed shows up in the inexpensive prices and food, as well as the genuine friendliness of Vietnamese culture. Besides being cheap, food is plentiful and delicious.
Typically, we make breakfast in our studio with exotic fruits, nuts, and quail eggs from the market.
We go out to restaurants for dinner, but most of the time order appetizers, and then take-away dishes to dine in our room with a magnificent view.
What’s not to love about living in a 26th floor studio apartment that looks over the ocean while you sleep to a serenade of roaring waves?
Well, no love for the see-through bathroom under any circumstance.
Outside of a visit to the sacred sites of Long Son Pagoda and Po Nagar Cham Towers, we spend most days under a palapa on the beach watching the waves smash swimmers.
The biggest concern of the day becomes “Is it too early for a cold beer?” No, never too early for a cold beer at the beach.
Russians surround us. Vietnamese vendors stroll the beach and greet us with “zdravstvuyte” which means something like “hello” in Russian. We give ourselves away with a smile and they follow-up quickly with “You don’t look Russian, where you from?” one of the few phrases that they seem to know in English. Luckily, dollars and food are universal language even if it means smiling, pointing, and laughing. Takes about a week for them to recognize us.
Lobster anyone? How about fresh fruit? Or a massage? Indulge in it all.
We enjoy immersion into diverse cultures and do not mind our role of super-minority. Being out of your comfort zone stretches the psyche. People everywhere are basically the same, with similar wants and needs in life. At first, due to current circumstances in the world, watching Russians frolic on the beach causes a bit of discomfort. However, we realize that over ninety-nine percent of the human population have no control over what our governments do and what propaganda they feed us.
Aside from the development and demographics, other impressions of Vietnam have not changed much. Crossing the street on foot is still a test of fortitude. Scooters, and more scooters constantly zoom down the streets and sidewalks. You have to just start walking across the street as the pack swarms towards you, and most importantly, keep the same gait, the same stride, while crossing. If you wait for a clear opening to cross all lanes, it will never come. Red lights and stop signs do not exist, and painted crosswalks mean next to nothing. “Keep the same pace” is the mantra, because in that way scooters swarm around and miss you like schools of fish. However, cars change the entire game as they rarely stop or swerve. The mantra for cars is “simply save your ass anyway you can.”
Watching people cross the street from our balcony provides evenings of entertainment (our studio has no English television). If a pedestrian stops while crossing the street, every scooter rider loses their rhythm and that could mean trouble! Check out this sample video of our nightly show:
This “early morning” culture of the Vietnamese fits us perfectly. Before the sun rises, around five o’clock in the morning or so, aerobics begin on the beach. Locals walk into the South China Sea to swim and watch the sunrise. Coffee stands open on the sidewalks. We are morning people just like them, and often join in the swim on the way to get good coffee.
The coffee lady automatically makes two thick, black cups to go for us upon first sight. Alas. No conversation. Just smiles and money exchange. At least this is not a Nescafe nation.
The “Dam Market” also opens early. Slithering eels, twitching prawns, and flipping fish line the stalls next to whole chickens, beef, and a plethora of flowers, fruits and veggies.
Irresistible rice-batter fried pancakes filled with hot chilis, carrots, bean sprouts and other vegetables grab us. The Dam market proves to be too damn huge for us to ever find that same small stall again.
Easy to find the infamous “Banh Mi” carts serving a baguette sandwich filled with sprouts, hot chili, vegetables, and mystery meats.
These carts line the sidewalks from early morning until after lunch. Take a fresh-squeezed cane juice with you to wash it down.
Even the night life opens and closes early. This is our kind of town.
Love the open-air gym in town, complete with a heavy bag! A heavy bag is the biggest liar in any gym because it does not hit back. That is a good thing for this old guy. Talk about working up a sweat. Working-out in temperatures over eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit (30 C) in ninety-five percent humidity will sweat you up like Hot Yoga. Hitting the heavy bag could be the only time that I enjoy hearing techno heavy metal death music. Yes, by the end of the month we are back in decent physical condition.
We love our month in Nha Trang and could stay longer, but the time for these restless souls to move on has come.
Thank you, Abundant Universe!