“Happiness is a Journey, not a Destination”
Okay, we should have saved the "So Long Penang" title for "So Long Nha Trang"... call it lack of foresight, and a missed opportunity...
Vietnam for the win
We love this place. We managed to get an apartment for the month where you can hear the waves crashing on the beach... and now we never want to live anywhere where we can't hear that sound. Nha Trang has been a real treat for us because of the proximity to the sea, and has felt a bit like a month long beach vacation. We're still working and doing school, but "break time" has a whole different meaning when it consists of hanging out at the beach.
When we first arrived in Nha Trang, we were honestly a little apprehensive. It was not what we expected. We had heard that Nha Trang attracted vacationing Russians, but it goes much deeper than just tourism. Russia has a significant presence here in general. The Russians once had a large navel station in Cam Ranh bay, and there are lots of Russians actually living and working in Nha Trang. I suppose if I had to live through a Russian winter, I'd move here too. Most menus are in Vietnamese and Russian. Everyone thought we were Russians too, even the Russians. This was not a bad thing at all - to be clear - it was just surprising to us. Josie made friends with Russian kids at the beach despite the language barrier, and every Russian we actually met and talked to was friendly and kind.
We stayed north of the city in an area called Vinh Phuoc, right on the beach. Again, April managed to find this place on Airbnb, and the location couldn't have been better. Far enough away from the city to be sleepy, but close enough to quickly walk to where the action was. A 10 minute walk north of our location toward the Vinh Hoa neighborhood put us smack-dab into locals only territory. Just a short walk up the beach, the tourists started thinning out, and we were treated to winding alleyways, open air markets, and local shops, restaurants and craftsmen.
Despite our initial culture shock, we all fell in love with Nha Trang. The coastline here is absolutely spectacular, with long stretches of wide sand beaches that end in wild rock cliffs and dramatic outcroppings, and water that changes from a deep jade color to turquoise depending on what time of day it is. The public spaces, beaches and infrastructure here are solid, and it makes living here pretty easy. But hands down, the locals made Nha Trang arguably the coolest place we have visited so far.
We made the walk into the city of Nha Trang three times. Once you make it over the bridge, the congestion starts, and the beaches morph into a more touristy vibe. It was fine, but again, we're glad we picked the spot we did. The beachfront felt like it had been specifically tailored for the tourist with overpriced beach bars and such, but once you got into the city, the vibe changed a lot. There was hip breweries and restaurants intermingled in your standard fare convenience stores, sidewalk markets, and street food vendors.
The streets of Nha Trang were filled with lawless dystopian scooter gangs speeding around like they were late to an important meeting, just like everywhere else we've been in SE Asia. One distinct difference, however was the use of the horn here. Everyone honks at each other for what appears to be no good reason at all. It's so loud (said in my best "get off my lawn" tone). We're told that's how they signal to each other where they are at any given time or place, in the absence of using mirrors or having traffic laws I suppose. It all seems to work out though.
Overall, our stay in Nha Trang was pretty low key, and included a lot of overdue beach time. Josie is absolutely kicking ass in school, and is engaged and really enjoying her online courses. She told us the other day that she didn't feel like she was even in school. She loves the flexibility and freedom that comes with the lack of a stringent schedule. Our apprehension and fears about homeschooling have all but disappeared, and we're confident that she is getting (and enjoying) a world class education. Recess at the beach is the cherry on top of the "traveling the world" education cake.
Get your popcorn ready and enjoy the slideshow!
Our Unintended Discoveries
The Vietnamese people we met here were remarkably kind. Kindness is a difficult characteristic to measure, because to a degree, it's like anything in life that's subjective or meaningful to you personally. To us, kindness is measured in time and energy. If there is something we can reasonably do to help someone who needs it, we do it. That seems to be the way it works here, too. We saw it in the way they interacted with each other, and the way they interacted with us.
The beaches here are beautiful, but like all of SE Asia (and most of the world), there is major problems with pollution. There is a constant stream of trash that washes ashore here. Some people don't seem to mind it (we saw tourists literally laying their beach blankets in trash), but to us, it's hard to see. So we collected some rice bags that washed ashore, and for the past month on our daily beach walks, we picked up trash, and without fail, we didn't do it alone. There was always someone that stopped what they were doing, and helped us. From the old Vietnamese woman who didn't speak a lick of English, and just smiled and silently walked along with us picking up trash, to the Vietnamese kids and young adults who introduced themselves and asked if they could help, everyone was engaging, friendly and warm. There was even a day when two teenage boys saw us picking up trash, went to the store, bought us cold water, and delivered it to us beach-side.
There has been a lot of unintended discoveries we're making while traveling. Largely about ourselves, and how we are adapting and responding to our new and constantly changing reality, but also about the nuances in the characteristics of other cultures, and how these characteristics help shape our experiences. All of these discoveries have been overwhelmingly positive.
Everyone we are meeting is so genuinely nice, from the lady at the market in Chiang Mai that brought us our mangos that we left at her stand, to See Ming and her son Max in KL that got us going with all the world school groups, to Nao and her family in Penang - continuing our winning streak in the "Best Neighbors Ever" lottery, to Lan, Hoa and Long, and all the locals we met here in Vietnam down at the beach. Besides the locals, we've also crossed paths with some fellow travelers wandering the earth, just like us. Ken and Deb in Chiang Mai, and Val and Erin and their kids Tate and Lydia in Penang. Salt of the earth type folks that we were honored to meet, and will hopefully see again some day!
On to the Next Spot!
We're on our way to Hoi An, Vietnam tomorrow. We're really looking forward to this next spot. It's tucked away at the end of a dead end street, and is about a 5 minute walk to the beach. It looks slow and dreamy. We'll try to make another post in a few weeks. Stay tuned, and thanks for checking in on us - we hope you are all doing awesome.