There is a wonderful moment early on during your travels when you realise you have left your culture behind and feel truly alien. Naturally the weather, language, food, sights & sounds all contribute to the sense of otherness. However there is another crucial tell-tale sign – being laughed at.
In towns like Quy Nhon where westerners remain the exception, being 6ft+ & crashing about in giant size 10 Converse boots creates responses varying from curious smiles to politely concealed sniggers onto blatant pointing and laughing. John doesn’t mind being a figure of hilarity & ridicule – the Vietnamese are so charming about it.
On a visit to Quy Nhon’s Cham civilisation monument Thap Doi – a site of not insignificant importance – a coach load of Vietnamese tourists abruptly ended their interest in matters ancient on seeing John’s lumbering frame loom into view. From that point on, it was selfie central as the party insisted on having their pic taken alongside the hapless westerner – not so much celebrity as oddity. They jostled with each other to ensure they got their photo taken with John & he happily obliged! He loved the attention & insisted on having his picture taken with the ladies of the group.
Similarly, on our train journey to Nha Trang our presence in the station waiting room caused stifled grins. Occasionally someone will break ranks & talk to us, enjoying the chance to practice their English. On the train Sam watched the mirth in each row of seats as John wandered down the carriage, surfing the wave of laughter & incredulity. We haven’t quite worked out if they are laughing with John or at him – probably a bit of both which is fine by us, it’s always nice to make people happy, especially when it involves absolutely no effort.
Talking of no effort, this blog has been composed while having a foot massage on Nha Trang beach.
In terms of our journey, after the resort outside Quy Nhon, we spent a few days in the town itself. The size of Brighton & Hove it remains slightly off the beaten track due to its relatively near high profile neighbours Da Nang & Nha Trang, which attract a lot of Chinese & Russian tourists (& money). Given its stretches of gorgeous sandy beach it’s only a matter of time before the same tourist boom follows. It seems to have taken the decision to prepare itself for growth by directing investment into bright neon lighting just about everywhere. No doubt Quy Nhon on a Saturday night can be viewed with ease from the Space Shuttle.
We found an Aussie run bar & treated ourselves to burger & pizza while watching the astonishing sight of England’s 6-1 win over Panama. A crushing victory tinged with sadness – “we may never live to see that happen again”. Only England fans can snatch feelings of mortality from the jaws of victory.
On Tuesday we took the 4.5 hour train trip from Quy Nhon to Nha Trang where we immersed ourselves in local culture by travelling in the second class carriage – top marks for authenticity, zero for comfort. The train was 45 minutes late, but given that it had set off from Hanoi in the north 24 hours earlier, that didn’t seem bad going – punctuality Southern Rail could only dream of. The carriage was packed, not only with Vietnamese travellers, but their over sized boxes which they all seem to travel with. They stick these in front of their seats & use them to rest their bare feet on. This meant we had limited leg room & the frequent brushing of their bare feet against our hot, sweaty legs. The ‘refreshment trolley’ consisted of frequent vendors touting their food which ranged from local tea, fresh mango & other home cooked hot food we couldn’t identify.
We’ve arrived in Nha Trang, Vietnam’s premier beach resort city, details of which will follow in the next blog. Tonight we are out celebrating our anniversary – although being 14 hours ahead of Vegas where we wed it should probably be tomorrow night. We’ll just have to celebrate twice!