Nha Trang, in the south east of Vietnam, gave us a lot of fun. We arrived tired off the overnight train, but there had been mention of a waterpark nearby. Little did we know it would be one of the biggest water theme parks in Asia!
It had been played down a little by Fon, who told us there was only one slide, and instead was trying to recommend various boat trips. After a bit of searching on the internet, I found the website for Vinpearl resort, complete with all its photographs of waterpark heaven.
It was a bit pricey – about £11 – but it didn’t take long to convince people, and soon there was eleven of us following my slightly childish love of slides and heading to a taxi.
To reach the resort, which is located on an island, you have to take the special chairlift. It’s a familiar design – its actually a Poma ski gondola, but it turns out its also the longest chairlift crossing over water in the world.
A huge cruise ship was parked up in the blue waters nearby, but the theme park was incredibly empty. It meant we could ride and slide to our heart’s content – particular favourites being the huge family raft tube which almost threw us off the side, a kamikaze style steep slide which had cheese-grater style joints which deprived your back of a few layers of skin, and a fairground-style ride that spins you round and upside down.
A few of the lads had discovered the ride just after lunch, thinking it would be fairly tame. It gave us a bit of a shock – partly as every now and again, while you were barely held in upside down, there was a worrying jolt and a metallic sound which didn’t sound too healthy. It spun you around upside down until most of your blood was in your head, far longer than anything back home, and eventually it brought you back down to earth.
I love theme park rides, and Hull Fair is one of my highlights every year, but there was something about that ride that just did not feel safe. Everyone felt the same, but we decided we’d tell the girls that it was good fun and get them on it at the end of the day.
It was a decision which could have backfired – it meant we’d have to put our lives in the hands of some dodgy Vietnamese ride technology yet again, but it could also mean we’d lose quite a few friends. As it happens, they all seemed to enjoy it far more than us – Fon our tour leader even shouting for the ride operator to send us up again for another dose!
Thankfully we didn’t, but after a full day of swimming, sliding and a bit of volleyball on the beach, everyone was shattered. We had a few beers at a nearby bar, and then tried, unsuccessfully, to find a late bar, before ending up in a sidestreet place being beckoned in by a big burly Australian.
He told us how he’d moved there having met the love of his life – a picture of him and his Vietnamese wife on their wedding day hangs on the wall – and that while he didn’t make any money, he loved the country and decided to stay. There was a gaggle of older blokes outside, each with their own Vietnamese ‘love of their life’ hanging off their arm. Ricky decided he would tell everyone he was Russian, and occasionally changed from his Yorkshire accent mid way through a sentence while talking to a French bloke. It was amusing, but all a bit odd, and we went for bed.
The next day was spent feeling quite ill. Having been out the night previous, I’d missed taking my anti-malaria tablet so thought it would be a good idea to take it as soon as I remembered the next morning. Big mistake! An hour later, just as I reached a restaurant for brunch, I broke out in a fever and sweats with one of the worst headaches and sickness. It left me feeling washed out for much of the day.
A pretty horrendous journey on an overnight bus (see my previous post!) took us to Hoi An, the silk and tailoring capital of Vietnam.
It’s a historic port city, with huge Chinese and French influences and a great deal of history. Its built up around a river, along which boasts some of the cheapest beer in the world. At the equivalent of just 15p, it was rude not to indulge in some, especially as the weather was on the turn.
The city has around 400 expert tailors, and is famous for its made to measure clothes. Many of the girls were excited about a full day of shopping amid colourful – and I have to say, very impressive – dresses and skirts. After looking around at suits, and finding out I could save a few hundred pounds on a tailored one from the UK by having one made here, I realised it would be stupid not to have one made.
I shopped around and was quoted around $160 for a suit. At £100 it was still quite a good deal, but I ended up bumping into Dirk who’d just splashed out $220 on two suits and three shirts. He took me to the shop and introduced me to Lu, and demanded she gave me a good deal. I’ve never made a suit from scratch before, and it was strange to be shown all the different fabrics and to have to choose a colour and appearance.
I went for a charcoal grey material, made of a cashmere wool and silk blend, and was quoted $140. I ended up knocking that down to $100, and then getting a tailored shirt thrown in for an extra $10. I was shown some design catalogues, picked the look I wanted and told to come back the following day at 11am for a fitting.
Before I’d left the shop, my material was already being cut and prepared and being laid out on the floor by Lu who was quite possibly one of the bubbliest, friendliest shopkeepers I’ve met out here. I don’t quite know how they manage to make clothes so quickly overnight, but I was about to find out.
The next day Ricardo, Dirk, Malcolm and I decided to hire cycles, so at 11am I rode back to the shop for my fitting. The shirt and trousers were already hanging up waiting for me, and fitted absolutely perfectly. Its so hard to find trousers that fit me well, and they alone were worth paying the money for. The suit jacket was handed to me but needed a few alterations for it to fit properly. I was told to return at 5pm, so in the meantime we all went for a ride to a nearby beach.
Having had plenty of experience of watching cyclists dicing with death through the windows of various buses in the last few weeks, I had a fair idea of what to expect, although thankfully the roads around Hoi An are relatively quiet.
It was nice to take to two wheels and make our way through the countryside, with fellow tourists giving us a wave and a smile as we passed by. It was only a dollar to hire a bike for the day so it made sense to see a bit of the region while we could, and after a few Larue beers over the last few days, it was some much needed exercise.
It was about 8km to the nearest beach, and as we entered the village we got flagged down by someone at the side of the road with a whistle. Thinking it was the Vietnamese police, we pulled off into a shed, where someone was waiting with tickets. Apparently, no bicycles were allowed at the beach. It was a lie! It was only a short walk though, so we paid the 10p per bike they were wanting and headed to the sands.
We needn’t have bothered. As Ricky said, it was ‘probably the worst beach he’d ever been to,’ and I had to agree. The weather had undoubtedly battered the coast – one of the locals told us it was the tail end of a cyclone – and the waves were still rough. Along with some washed up palm trees, there was rubbish everywhere, and on closer inspection it soon became clear where it was all from – China.
The horizon we were trying to see through the mist and spray was over the greeny-coloured South China Sea, and all the tins, plastic bottles and glass containers washing up on the Vietnamese shore would indicate tonnes of the stuff is being thrown into the sea further up the coast and ending up littering what would otherwise be, on a calm and sunny day, a beautiful bit of coastline.
We carried on up the coast to see if it improved, but it didn’t. Instead, we headed back towards Hoi An for some lunch, but taking time to get photos of local farmers and fishermen working in the surrounding paddy fields, while some of the local cows took an interest in us.
We had lunch at a bar and restaurant across the road from the hotel. It was one I’d spotted as it was advertising a free pool table on the door, and it was about time some of our competitive streak came out in us again. After a few frames, it started raining outside again – and it just didn’t stop. It was absolutely torrential, so much so the roads began to flood. Running across the road to the hotel opposite was enough to soak you through. Most of the group had taken refuge back in their rooms, but most of the group, me included, also had to get back into town for 5pm for a final fitting.
Thankfully I still had my cycle parked outside the hotel, so having dug out my Berghaus again, cycled off through the puddles to Le Loi street, where my suit was hanging on a door waiting for me. This time it was too tight – and meant another trip back at 7pm. In between, I had to return the cycle, so either way I knew it meant a drenching. Sure enough, it was still hammering down, and I arrived back at the shop with all the girls laughing at me. They sat me down and gave me a bottle of water, taking my raincoat and hanging it to dry off.
The suit fitted really well, with sleeves the perfect length and no wrinkling at the back. It’ll probably be a different story by the time I go back to work, but within a few minutes a courier was at the shop ready to pack it off to the UK. It was $28 to send it via sea mail, but thankfully I had a brainwave and asked how much to send another kilo of belongings from my rucksack. It was $2 more, but meant walking back to the hotel.
Thankfully Lu said I could borrow her bike, so back I went on her traditional ladies cycle, much to the amusement of the hotel porter when I arrived. Twenty minutes later, I was back at the shop with the pay as you go mobile phone Dad got me when my iPhone broke, my unused electric shaver, some books and a few more souvenirs and papers. Every little helps when it comes to keeping the weight on your shoulders down!
With my first ever made-to-measure suit on its way home, dinner was, unsurprisingly, at the same bar and restaurant opposite the hotel as we had lunch, and the evening was spent playing pool as it continued to lash down outside. There’s no wonder the staff at the restaurant joined the hotel staff in waving us off the next morning – we certainly gave them a lot of business during our short stay!
We headed off on a four hour journey north to Hue, pronounced ‘Huway’ due to the French influence in the area. The rain was still incessant, meaning we couldn’t take a spectacular mountain pass and instead had to travel through Asia’s longest tunnel, at about 6.9km.
It came out onto some tight hairpin bends in scenery that seemed familiar, and then Malcolm confirmed why. We’re following the same route that Top Gear did when they filmed in Vietnam, and I distinctly remembered the stretch of road we were on. After a few unnerving twists and turns, we arrived in Hue – and still the rain continued to pour.