Wednesday, 28 May 2014

An Egg Mud Bath in Nha Trang

After leaving the refreshingly mild climate of Dalat behind us, Angela and I were dreading going back to the muggy, sweltering temperatures of the Vietnamese lowlands. It didn't help that our next destination was a place neither of us were keen to visit. The seaside resort city of Nha Trang is a major stop on the backpacking route through Vietnam, and the only reason we were stopping there was to break apart our journey north from Dalat to Hoi An. In all other respects, there seemed no reason to stop there, given what we'd heard about the place from friends who'd been there: dirty beaches with dead fish and stray syringes in the sand...purse snatchings...overcommercialisation...too many Russians... There were plenty of reasons to skip this place, it seemed. Nevertheless, we thought we'd at least give it a chance, and booked two nights there.

Maybe it was because we were hoping for so little, but we actually really enjoyed our time in Nha Trang. We didn't see any of the dirtiness we'd been told about, didn't experience any scamming or rudeness, and generally we liked how developed and clean it felt compared to most other big cities we'd seen on our trip. It actually felt very similar to Miami, Florida, which we visited a couple of months ago. There was also a strong ocean breeze while we were there, so it wasn't as hot as we were expecting. But perhaps the highlight of our visit was the 100 Egg Mud Bath, a resort where you can bathe inside giant eggs on the side of a mountain. It was kind of expensive, but far too gimmicky for us to resist.

Our bus route from Dalat to Nha Trang.
The morning we left from Dalat, it was raining as we weaved between the mountains.
As we went down into the lowlands, we escaped the overcast weather.

And by the time we arrived in Nha Trang it was sunny and warm again.
We took a taxi to our hotel, driving down a palm tree-lined beachfront that reminded us of Miami.
There's even a grassy sculpture park between the main road and the beach, very similar to South Beach in Miami.
Nha Trang has a huge bay stretching from north to south and lined with beaches. In the distance can be seen the island of Vinpearl.

There were dozens of kites in the sky as the sun was setting.

The night market.

There's a bar in town called Tarantino...
...with Pulp Fiction in Russian!
For dinner we had a Vietnamese hot pot, or lau.

The next day, while walking to the beach we spotted Angela's name.
Back on the beachfront, it was actually a lot quieter during the afternoon than in the evening.

We spent a short time by the beach before taking a bus to 100 Egg Mud Bath, about fifteen minutes outside the city.

The whole place is filled with eggs.

The staff members escorted us through a plantation of egg baths scattered over the side of a hill.

Inside one of those eggs, we shared a herbal bath filled with flower leaves. It was like bathing in tea.

Then we walked across the valley, passing by a waterfall.

After the waterfall, it was time for an egg mud bath!

After half an hour, we cleaned off and went for a swim in the pool (which was shaped like, yep, an egg).
We were allowed to explore more of the resort, with some splendid countryside views, and lots more eggs.

Even the fruit was shaped like eggs!

The next day, while waiting for our night bus to Hoi An we relaxed by a pool at a place called the Louisana Lounge. There are definitely worse ways to pass a few hours.

So there you have it, Nha Trang, a place we expected to hate, but as usual, this country continues to challenge our expectations at every turn. This was our last destination in South Vietnam. Next we would be heading up to Hoi An, in the central part of the country, which we'll be looking at in my next post.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Dalat - Vietnam's Romantic Alpine Retreat: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

After leaving the Flower Park we were back on our motorbike, heading due west to find a temple.

Stopping by the roadside to admire the scenery.

Before long, we spotted the temple we were looking for: Chua Linh Phuoc!
This temple is one of the most magical places either of us have ever visited. It uses very surrealist, mosaic designs that reminds me of some of the architecture in Barcelona. If Antoni Gaudi had been a Buddhist, this is what he might have built.

This long, slender dragon was weaving its way through one of the temple's courtyards.

We climbed up to the top of the pagoda, which provided some great views of the nearby countryside.

The temple also features the world's largest Buddha statue made entirely from flowers.
You can even go up and touch the flowers, and witness up close the craft and attention that went into the statue. But as amazing as it is, it's not even the temple's most impressive Buddha...
...That title would go to this bad boy.

Having visited probably our favourite Buddhist temple in the world, we could easily have ended the day there and been happy. But we had another spot on our map that we wanted to cross off, so back onto the motorbike we went.

As we headed south we passed through dense pine tree forests.
Angela tried riding the motorbike herself for a bit.
There are lots of waterfalls in the mountains surrounding Dalat. We visited Datania Falls, though in order to get there we needed to ride an old-fashioned rollercoaster.
It was almost like one of those mechanical toboggans that let you control the speed.

After some speeding through the forests, we arrived safely at Datania Falls.

The next day, we did some more exploring on motorbike, at one point coming across this quaint little railway cafe.
The inside of the train cart was decorated with vintage postcards and photos reminiscent of oldtime USA, and there was country and bluegrass music playing while we ate. It all made for a very charming lunchtime meal!

We were going to visit another waterfall that day, but unfortunately a storm came and it didn't stop raining for hours on end.
We had to ride back home in the rain and save the sightseeing for another day.
The next morning, we had a bus to catch, but we had enough time to briefly explore Hang Nga Guesthouse, also known as the Crazy House. Designed by Vietnamese architect, Dang Viet Gna, the guesthouse incorporates many fairytale-like design elements such as mushrooms, vines and spider webs. Rather like the temple we saw two days before, it has much in common with the designs of Barcelona's famous architect, Antoni Gaudi.
There are these winding, beanstalk-like stairwells that take you to the top for some fantastic views over Dalat.

Inside one of the guesthouse's fantastical rooms.

Exiting through tangled vines.
After leaving the Crazy House, we boarded our bus for Nha Trang.
We were sad to say goodbye to Dalat. It had such a unique, charming character, and there were so many fun places to see nearby. Above all, though, we relished the dramatic change in setting that it provided. On Phu Quoc we'd been riding from one tropical beach to another, and in Mui Ne we'd been hiking across humid sand dunes; now it was as though we'd been transported to a romantic, breezy town in the French Alps. It felt completely removed from everything else. We could have stayed for weeks if we had more time on our visas, but alas, we had too many other places to visit in this long country that never stops surprising us with its variety of different landscapes.