Current Location

Nha Trang Vietnam

Getting Splashy in Nha Trang

Let me start by finally laying to rest any pretence that remained that I am a budget traveller. Maybe I once was. Alas, it seems, on the evidence of this trip, not any more, and anyone thinking I am still a shoe-stringer of any description is as misguided as an ardent Jeremy Corbyn supporter.

A mud bath, which is supposedly excellent for the complexion.
A mud bath, which is supposedly excellent for the complexion.
Moonlighting.
Moonlighting.
This is a drink called an O-Positive, which Trang ordered without realising O-Positive refers to blood. Fortunately it wasn't blood at all, but rather orange flavoured liquor.
This is a drink called an O-Positive, which Trang ordered without realising O-Positive refers to blood. Fortunately it wasn’t blood at all, but rather orange flavoured liquor.
Dinner on the beach, at The Sailing Club. Didn't see a single boat the whole time we were there.
Dinner on the beach, at The Sailing Club. Didn’t see a single boat the whole time we were there.

This was my second visit to Nha Trang, taking advantage of a sliver of free time away from teaching. The first time I came here, back in October 2014, I stayed in the five star InterContinental hotel, a plush boutique outfit who’s private beach, panoramic water front views and international breakfast hardly scream shoe-string.

This time around we opted to stay in the Sheraton, a similarly priced, similarly luxurious hotel adjacent to the InterContinental, commanding equally dramatic waterfront views, a fully equipped gymnasium, a private beach with waiter service direct to your sun lounger, and some of the best coffee I’ve had in a rather long time.

To think I used to hunker down in hostels for a fiver a night…

I’m well aware that there are a range of much cheaper ways to enjoy Nha Trang, and I wouldn’t want you to think this is a place only for those able to afford five star luxury. Travellers have the choice of a full range of hotels. After all, this is a resort city, the key and indeed only industry being tourism, the city’s hotels, restaurants and bars stuffed to the gills daily with not only the omnipotent Western backpacker, complete with his vest, board shorts, beard, Haviana flip flops, wayfarers, tattoos and (increasingly alarmingly) greasy man buns; but also with a range of assorted Chinese and Russian tourists as well.

There are so many Russians here, in fact, that many shop signs are written entirely in Russian, and on our first night here we were presented in a restaurant with a menu translated into only Russian and not English. First world problems.

A visit to Nha Trang can take you in a range of directions, from the cheap and cheerful to the splashiest of splashing out, as is the wont of you and your credit card. This time around, my girlfriend and I have admittedly relied on the splashier end of the splashing out spectrum. We figured we might not get chance for a trip away for at least another six weeks, and thus we should treat ourselves immediately.

Last night, for example, we spent several hours in The Sailing Club, me nursing glasses of 15 year old single malt, Trang throwing back a range of mysterious shots, helping our digestive systems handle the gourmet burger and blue cheese feasts enjoyed shortly before, sat on a peaceful terrace overlooking the beach.

Today we visited a spa – confusingly named iResort, of which more later – where we took out a VIP package for two, spending several hours wallowing in our own private mud bath and swimming pool before being massaged in our own private bungalow (a massage that had nothing to do with our privates, to sidestep the inevitable joke and move swiftly on).

And shortly, we’re going to spend our last evening here in the hotel’s rooftop bar before jetting back to Hanoi tomorrow morning.

Don’t worry about us – we’re really ok.

The view from our balcony - beach, InterContinental, city, mountains, sea, sky, sand... etc
The view from our balcony – beach, InterContinental, city, mountains, sea, sky, sand… etc
Previous Location

Hanoi Vietnam

Golf Vietnam

Back in England, I was a keen golfer. In the summer I’d knock off work at half three if I could, giving myself time to get onto Allerton or Bowring Park before it went dark (and after the ticket office closed, meaning I didn’t have to pay) and have a swift round before night fell. As a student I once spent a very happy summer golfing pretty much every day, having taken out a student membership at a local club. I’ve grown to rather enjoy a day hacking my way through parkland, it seems.

A standard Vietnamese golf ball street stall.
A standard Vietnamese golf ball street stall.
The six hardy, brave golfers who set forth...
The six hardy, brave golfers who set forth…
Nick, who sent his ball straight into that massive mountain.
Nick, who sent his ball straight into that massive mountain.
A typical tee shot.
A typical tee shot.

IMG_5278

Another mountainous hole.
Another mountainous hole.

But alas, golfing in Vietnam is much harder to do. For one, it’s more expensive. It’s also stupidly hot most of the year round, leaving an ideal golfing window from about the middle of February to the middle of April, and again in the autumn. All told, it had been almost three years since I’d played.

Thus, when one of the teachers in work organised a golf day at the local (localish…) Phoenix Golf Resort, I naturally jumped at the chance.

I have to say, the course itself was quite spectacularly set. The Phoenix Golf Resort, about 50km outside Hanoi (or a brisk hour in a hired mini bus), boasts no fewer than three golf courses, set among dramatic karst mountains rising impressively between the fairways and behind the greens.

This was a far cry from the Liverpool municipals: Bowring Park is set against the M62. Thus, this was set to be something special.

We had accidentally booked ourselves onto the Championship Course – purportedly the most difficult of the three, booked because it was the only course name I could remember when the woman on the phone asked which one we’d like to play. Thus we arrived expecting a day following golf balls into rivers, up mountains and through the jungles of northern Vietnam.

The course had an informal feeling. Perhaps typically for Vietnam, it seemed that actual rules were better seen as guidelines. It was a little weathered in parts. Some of the greens were a bit sandy, the fairways occasionally patchy. I guess this isn’t the easiest country in the world to maintain a golf course, spending half the year in the torrential rain of a wet season, and the other half in the baking dry summer heat.

We had to hire golf clubs, of course. Sadly when packing to leave England I didn’t think to bring my trusty Taylor Made four wood, a decision I now found cause to lament as I was presented with a set of hire clubs that had clearly seen better days, probably sometime around 1973.

Buying golf balls was easier. One piece of advice: don’t buy golf balls from the official shops. You’ll pay a fortune. Right outside the course entrance, on the main road, were roadside stands of locals selling baskets of lake balls, cleaned, sorted by brand and type and sold at exceedingly cheap prices. A bag of 20 Titlist Pro V1s (golf’s best ball, sure to transform me almost instantly into a young and not unattractive Seve Ballesteros) set me back less than a tenner.

Thus with rusty clubs selected and revived lake balls safely stowed, we headed outside to meet our caddies. This in itself was another novelty: I’ve never had a caddy before playing golf, usually preferring to carry my clubs atop my back. Alas, we didn’t have any choice here – caddies are mandatory, included in the green fees, their job being to guide you from hole to hole smoothly, making sure you don’t leave crater sized divots all over the course.

Heaven only knows what they made of us as we sliced balls right and hooked balls left, only preciously rare shots heading in their intended direction. At times they seemed to giggle at one of my three-ball partners as he addressed his putts, at others they showed laudably little frustration as the putts they had carefully lined up on our behalf sailed metres past the holes. Alas, they remained good sports. I’d happily have a caddy again in the future.

To say I played badly is perhaps an understatement. A few drives sailed gloriously along the fairways, but I spent more time watching balls disappear out of sight into lakes or up mountains. My short game remains temperamental, my putting nothing other than an embarrassment, my driving only occasionally providing some redemption.

Even so, we had a terribly lovely day. We’re going again soon, or so we are threatening…