Eagles Crack Heads in Naughty Nha Trang

Both Katie and I found it difficult to leave the historic ancient port of Hoi An, with its relaxed riverside dinning, its mix of interesting architecture and its appealing streets, all crammed with shops of every kind. If you add warm and fun-loving local people into this reasoning, then it probably seemed a little crazy not to stay a while longer. This is where fate intervened. Previously, we arranged to meet our niece Cassie and her partner Michael, in Nha Trang, which somehow caused a chain reaction of unwanted events.

Beautiful Hoi An on Sunset

Beautiful Hoi An on Sunset

So, blissfully unaware, we taxied it north and headed back to Danang, where we became caught up in a large crowd of paparazzi and onlookers. We didn’t know who they came to see, but we waved at them like movie stars as if it was us, smiling all the while as their camera’s clicked and flashed at these unknown celebrities. It seems unfortunate and somewhat amusing that someone’s treasured celebrity shot, perched lovingly on their mantle, might actually be little old me.

Anyhoo, once we Hollywood celebs made it to Danang, we boarded the overnight train and headed south. After several arguments over whose beds belonged to who, copious expulsions of wind, an unholy amount of snoring and really horrible train food, we eventually trundled into the seaside city of Nha Trang. After an hour so waiting outside the station waiting for our pre-arranged ride to our hotel, we finally managed to contact them. Thirty minutes later, a guy showed up on a scooter to pick both of us up, plus our humungous backpacks. The end result of this, amounted to nearly two hours of constant hassles by the masses, trying to sell us a ride. In the end we got our own taxi, who managed to drop us nowhere near our hotel; perfect.

Several blocks in from the beach, the sea breeze disappeared and we began to wilt from the heat. Carrying all of your worldly possessions on your back, ensures a hot and frustrating search for your internet booked apartment. Once there, we discovered that the air-conditioning in our noisy second floor room didn’t work. Later in the evening, we also discovered that a searchlight positioned to illuminate an advertisement sign, shone directly at us through an almost non-existent flimsy curtain.

We felt like rabbits caught in a hunter’s headlights. Consider the torture of trying to sleep through an entire night of blaring crappy music, with light so bright, it burnt through your closed eyelids, while you boiled away in a pool of your own sweat. Needless to say, we moved out the next morning and because of our previous torments, decided to have a splurge. I didn’t take us long to find our intended heaven and eagerly headed into the beachside Novotel Hotel, to secure our two glorious romantic nights. After checking out a few rooms, we eventually went for the oh-my-God penthouse suite, unaware that fate had taken charge and continued to propel us towards catastrophe.

Later that morning, we met up with Michael and our bubbly niece, Cassie and caught up with each other’s travel stories and news from home. Together we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and an equally sumptuous Vietnamese lunch, before we took on the tiny waves, attempting to body surf, while trying to catch an Aussie rules football.

The Beach-side in Nha Trang

The Beach-side in Nha Trang

After our swim, we decided to return to our hotel and freshen up a little, as we entertained plans to go out for a late dinner with Cassie and Michael. On the way back to the Hotel, I cut my bare foot on a bolt sticking out from the road. It didn’t hurt, but caused quite a gash and a bucket of blood to flow. I went to take a shower and discovered that our room at the Novotel had two, one with a marble sunken bath beside it, and both having floor tiles that are unbelievably slippery. You can probably guess the rest. Katie heard an enormous thud and rushed to find me unconscious on the floor of the marble bath. Death is what she envisaged on first seeing me; it must have been quite a shock for her.

Sometime later, I drifted back to consciousness and wondered why a young Vietnamese man was gently stroking my naked back and whispering, soothing incomprehensible assurances, into my ear. I also noticed a lot of people milling around in our suite, making a fuss. How could this be? What on earth was going on here?

Think … Yes, reaching for a towel … that seemed to be my last and only memory of the event. Somehow, my petite wife, heroically lifted me into the lounge area by herself, which is amazing, given that I weigh more than a full-grown male Yak on steroids. She also called for the local Paris-trained doctor, arranged staff to assist me and telephoned our travel insurance company for advice.

I don’t have that many more memories for the next couple of weeks, although I apparently conversed with several people over the period. However, I do remember the fist-sized Hematoma sticking out of the back of my head and the resultant blown-out eye socket and bulging, protruding eye. I also remember the sombre ride in the lift and the shocked staff in the reception area. With absolute clarity, I remember attempting to get into a cab, posing as an ambulance, only to experience the pain of another similar-sized Hematoma sticking proudly out of my back.

I think brave Katie saved me in that hospital. All of the drugs prescribed for me, were given to Katie to administer, where she would telephone our insurance company doctor and quote the numbers and names of the drugs. On their advice, at least half of the medication went into the bin. Katie told me later that, after I vomited on the technicians scanning my brain, I told the doctor that I couldn’t remember anything, which of course … I couldn’t remember. This caused him to prescribe brain stimulants that didn’t feel that pleasant, when stimulating an already swollen brain. At times I woke to that jackhammer thumping away in my cranial cavity, while in every waking moment, my grey matter felt like it might expand beyond the borders of my skull.

The Amazing View from our Penthouse Suite - Nha Trang

The Amazing View from our Penthouse Suite – Nha Trang

Then, for apparently no reason at all, the hospital released me from their care and I returned to the hotel. Again I remember very little, except that I secretly organised a cake for Katie’s birthday. She loved the gesture, but soon realised that I looked like a ghoul from some b-grade horror movie. Horror is also how our insurance company doctor handled my release. They immediately contacted the hospital and I went back to that noisy ward for another unremembered stay.

There are some positives in this story. It must be said that the management and staff of the Novotel, treated Katie and I like we were one of their own family during our ordeal. I have never felt so loved by people I hardly knew, many of which, visited me daily at the hospital on their own time. I will never forget their kindness and sincerity.

And, what can I say about Katie? In those brief periods of consciousness at the hospital, I remember a strange sickening feeling that I can only describe as ‘death’. I actually remember worrying about how Katie would emotionally handle bringing me home in a box. The truth is, if she hadn’t been so courageous and cool under pressure that may well have been the outcome. I can only imagine the enormous stress she must have endured. Now that’s a companion that you’d want in your corner any day. Thanks my love.

It never occurred to me that I actually received a ‘brain injury’ rather than just a thump on the skull and a period of unconsciousness. It also never occurred to me that there might be unwanted ongoing symptoms, which might alter my life experience for many years to come. All we knew at the time was that I couldn’t fly, which meant staying put, or braving further travel closer to the ground. We chose the latter and decided to travel on the blue train, overnight to Ho Chi Minh City before our Vietnam Visas expired. I hope you will join us on the trip.


Plastic Jelly in Ha Long Bay

After leaving Hanoi, our three and a half hour bus ride to Ha Long Bay, provided us with a picturesque view of the landscape and the many people who tended the farms and animals along the way. However, my serene feelings became severely blunted, after witnessing the body of an old man and his mangled scooter, lying without dignity beside the road, in the middle of a bridge. I couldn’t help thinking about the children and grandchildren that might be awaiting their beloved grandfather’s return. Nothing seems more of a waste and tragedy, than a road accident.

My mood began to lighten a little as we arrived at the dock, not far from Ha Long City. Here we gathered our gear for the porters and crew, who then transferred us by Tender to a beautiful looking old Junk called the Marguerite. I remember trying to act in a nonchalant way, as another crew member escorted us to our very luxurious room, with ocean views on both sides, as if we always lived in such a grandiose manner. However, I couldn’t sustain my princely pretentiousness, as we enthusiastically accepted our complimentary drink and the five course lunch. I quickly gave up all of my ridiculous pretences, as we began to meet the other guests on the boat, who seemed just as impressed by the lavish surroundings.

The Marguerite

The Marguerite

Once we got under way, we began to receive our first glimpses of the famed Ha Long Bay scenery. All around us, jagged limestone monoliths, partially covered in jungle, rose straight out of the water, which provided a splendid contrast of milky white against the emerald green of the sea and the clear blue sky.

That afternoon the crew herded us aboard a smaller craft and ferried us to the Surprise Cave, which despite the crowding of tourists, provided us with some interesting experiences. Choked by the multitudes, we felt relieved once we made it back into the sunshine and jumped at the opportunity to go kayaking beneath the cliffs.

On our arrival back at the Marguerite, we discovered a competition, whereby the contestants must brave a jump from the first, then second and then finally, from the third floor of the junk. Obviously, we needed to ‘show up’ all of the Europeans and win the day for Australia. Who wouldn’t want the winning cocktail and the recognition one received, for winning the as yet, unrecognised world championship of junk diving?

Picturesque Ha Long Bay

Picturesque Ha Long Bay

Oh my dear Lord … when I finally stood atop of our craft, the watery world below seemed to be an awfully long way down. Finally, I found my courage and launched myself into the air; flying un-majestically, off the roof of a rocking Marguerite; legs and arms flailing to hopefully soften the expected pain of the landing. Instead of a prolonged fall, I hit the water almost simultaneously and suffered the shock, as I plunged under the surface.

Surprised, I found myself in water that felt as hot as a winter bath and apart from my ungraceful fall, it was almost an impossibility to sink, because the water contained so much salt. After our initial shock, we continued our attempted gold medal performances for most of the afternoon, assuming that the amassing jellyfish populations were all harmless. Apparently one species of the jellies, didn’t sting, whereas the other kind could be extremely dangerous. Good timing with the advice guy!

That night, as we waited in the dining room for the evening feast, all of the lights went out. In the darkness we spotted candles bobbing along, as a procession of crew members approached, presenting us with a decretive cake, a beautifully carved watermelon and a dozen red roses for our anniversary. Wow … The sweet girls at May De Ville did it again.

The next day we boarded a smaller boat, for a trip to a pearl farm in a very heavy downpour. The staff there, soon lost interest in us when we wouldn’t buy any pearls. Fortunately, the day turned into a stunner, so we launched some kayaks and began paddling through tight caves with hanging stalactites … and to our considerable delight, after moments in complete darkness, we discovered amazing hidden coves and wonderfully idyllic lagoons.

After this, we enjoyed some more swimming from our launch, until one of the two French guys in our group, jumped from the water, yelling that he’d spotted one of the dangerous jellyfish nearby. We all rushed from the water and hung out over the edge of the boat for a look at the killer. Soon after, my wife began to laugh and three grown men cringed into silence. The perpetrator turned out to be a plastic bag, which eventually became a humorous topic of conversation for us all, heightened by a decent Chilean white wine and a delicious lunch. Katie relished the moment, by suggesting that the Frenchies and I looked like the three Musketeers, courageously clinging to each other by the boat’s rail; cowered by the horrors of a submerged shopping bag. Yeah, very funny.

That afternoon, we went to a small white sandy beach for some more swimming, before returning to the Marguerite for a round or two of G and T’s. The competitions continued that evening, with everyone wanting to be the first to catch a fish from the back of the Junk. Unfortunately, due to copious amounts of medicinal alcohol, the only living thing that got caught was a poor woman in a row-boat, who was trying to sell us some of her wares. She was more than a little annoyed and didn’t seem to accept my story of a wayward cast, or my sincere apologies.

Our last day on the boat consisted of a visit to a little floating village with a population of about one thousand, seven hundred and something souls. This small community even boasted a floating school and a bank. As we prepared to leave the Marguerite, Katie and I received handshakes and hugs from the entire crew of our junk; genuine friendships formed in a matter of days, such is the nature of the North Vietnamese.

That afternoon we bounced our way back to Hanoi, accompanied by the retelling of many tales about our luxurious and enjoyable adventures. On arrival, we felt like we just needed to soak up more of the Ha Long Bay memories over a pleasant dinner, but further adventure awaited and prevented us this intended extravagance. We rushed to gather our remaining gear and headed off to the station for the overnight train. Despite our tiredness, we felt excitement at the prospect of visiting Danang and the old port town of Hoi An.