Greetings once again my friends. This time from the beautiful beach resort of Nha Trang, which we reached on Monday afternoon, beating the first typhoon into town by mere hours. So by the time we’d secured ourselves in our hotel and managed a quick dip in the sea, we were promptly treated to three days of lashing rain and howling winds that rattled the building to it’s foundations, transformed our road into a sizeable river, and littered the soft sand of the local beach with a thousand shattered trees and other storm detritus. And this was just the warm up.
In case you haven’t been following the news (and it would be quite an achievement to miss, since it’s been the headline story on the BBC news website for the past three days) we are expecting the arrival sometime tomorrow of the Über-Storm Haiyan. A spot of nasty weather that has been described in the media as a ‘category five hurricane’, a ‘super-typhoon’, and ‘the most powerful storm ever to make landfall’. And here we are, pitched up on the east coast of Vietnam, and right in the centre of it’s projected path. Exciting times ahead.
And yet, as simple travellers here there is little we can do to prepare for the arrival of the monster. So while the locals rush to secure the fishing fleet at harbour, we can eat ice creams on the beach. While the townsfolk scurry to pack valuable items high above ground level to protect from the anticipated flooding and five metre high storm surges, we drink beer by the rooftop swimming pool. And while windows and doors are being boarded up to defend against 200mph winds, we sit in an air conditioned hotel room, and write emails home. The phrase “the calm before the storm” has never been used more aptly.
Perhaps I’ll buy a kite.
A word on the journey here, because we were prepared for many things. Firstly, we were advised to expect trouble from the police; it’s technically illegal for foreigners to own motorcycles in Vietnam, and in the region of Khanh Hoa where Nha Trang is situated, it’s illegal for foreigners to even ride motorcycles regardless of who owns the machine. We had prepared for this, and my emergency 200,000 bribe was sorted and placed in easy reach for if and when the boys in blue flagged us down. I love the system in Asia, every encounter I’ve had with the forces of law and order out here over the years has cost me money (granted, it’s usually because I’ve been busted doing something I shouldn’t have been, and would rather cough up a few quid than face the local justice system) but I find it vastly preferable to the paperwork and criminal records of home. Here in Vietnam in fact, it’s downright hilarious because it’s the only country in the world were, when accosted by officer plod, the prudent, and even expected thing to do is rummage around in your trousers, whip out your Dong, and wave it in his face. Anywhere else and such actions would only exacerbate the matter. (No, I will never, ever, tire of the dong jokes!)
I should perhaps exercise a little caution here, knowing there are currently at least three uniformed officers on my mailing list, and god knows how many others could be reading the blog, but instead I’ll do the opposite and say unto thee, wise and trusted shepherds of the law: Just take the fucking bribe. No one wants to fill out reams of paperwork for minor misdemeanours, and no one wants it on their permanent record that they got caught with half a joint in their sock coming out of Glastonbury festival in 1997. Take a leaf out of the Southeast Asian book, take the cash, screw up the charge sheet and buy your missus a new frock.
Again, I digress. We were prepared for the long arm of the law.
We were prepared also for atrocious roads. We have encountered them, we have shaken our heads in disbelief at them, and we have overcome them. We were prepared for steep mountains, we were prepared for terrible weather and we were prepared most of all, for mechanical catastrophe.
But we were not prepared for this.
The greatest. I repeat: The Greatest, motorcycle journey I have ever made. The sun shone down on us, the clouds smiled up at us from the valleys below. The road stayed smooth, and the road stayed empty, as we scythed from jagged mountaintops to lush lowland forests. The lazily snaking tarmac ushered us on, past waterfalls, rivers, lakes and villages, and finally, to the sea. And dear Desmond, in spite of his age, in spite of the massive burden placed upon his little frame, he carried us like a breath of wind, with naught but a quiet, contented burble from his little 124cc heart. He didn’t stall, he didn’t overheat, and not a single component leapt from the bike in a bid for freedom. We loved him, and he loved us. And as we rolled into Nha Trang, we enshrined his name in song.
Nha Trang then, and why people don’t come here on holiday is a mystery to me. Obviously the flight will be longer and more expensive than a round trip to Tenerife, but a quality hotel room for two at £7 a night, restaurant meals for £1.50, and 15 pence for an ice cold bottle of the local brew should surely make up for that. You can get a massage and spa treatment (happy endings optional) for the price of a Weatherspoons breakfast, and you can get a days boat tour of the islands, with snorkelling, dinner and free bar (!) included, with change from a tenner. The beach is glorious, the sea is sapphire blue, the mountains and jungle that surround it are the finest of eye candy, and the locals will greet you with open arms. Think it over next time you’re at the travel agents contemplating £1600 for 10 days in Costa Del Grotbox.
Just don’t go in November. It’s prone to hurricanes I understand.
Anything else to report? We’ve been bathed in hot volcanic mud, that was fun. And we followed this up with a splash in the natural hot spring. Or at least, I did. At approximately 12 billion degrees, the water was a little too toasty for the sunburnt Miss Marie-Carmen, who dipped one foot in the pool, yelped, and opted to sit on a nearby sun bed drinking ginger tea instead. Mr Bob wallowed for the full 40 minutes, in a display of solidarity with our cousins, the lobsters.
Oh, and Monday is my birthday if you weren’t aware. You’re welcome to raise a drink (beer or whiskey please, no girlie stuff) and toast my magnificence in any way you choose. And keep an eye out for my next letter which, impending storm considered, could well be coming to you from the land of Oz. Or the international space station.
Take care, and much love.
Ps. 14 – 9. The mosquitoes are staging a comeback.