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.


An Eagle’s Hullabaloo in Hoi An

Perhaps I’m being unfair by suggesting that Danang is entirely populated by touts and scoundrels, yet my assertions appeared to manifest, when it required some very colourful discussions and a few minor scuffles, just to travel the short distance from the train station to the bus station. Here, things got decidedly worse, as a prolonged land war was needed to secure a reasonably priced ticket to Hoi An. To call our vehicle a chicken bus, was praise well earned. Every space was utilised, with bags of produce, vintage bikes and smelly cooking equipment filling every space. The staff were also interesting. Any passenger carrying a bag that could contain saleable items, was hasselled for extra money, which got extremely close to violence at times. It took ninety minutes to bounce roughly twenty five kilometres, before we were dumped, in what seemed to be a paddock.

Beautiful Hoi An on Dusk

Beautiful Hoi An on Dusk

After asking for directions and receiving many differing answers, we managed to walk several kilometres and find our hotel. It was a difficult morning, but well worth the effort; our accommodation was akin to Nirvana, with a huge sumptuously decorated room and tropical gardens surrounding a pool and ambient eating areas.

The true heart of the old port town ran along a stretch of the Thu Bon River and was a couple of kilomtres from our hotel. We walked this distance initially, but soon realised the benefit of hiring push bikes. This provided us with some terrific fun as we interacted with the multitude of other cyclists, despite our often being on the wrong side of the road. Our only real mishap occurred on a trip to Cu Dai beach. Half way there my chain snapped in two, which forced Katie to ride all the way back. Help arrived in the form of a motorbike, which meant that I had to sit on the back and pull the pushy behind as we weaved through the traffic.

Hoi An

Hoi An

For most travellers, Hoi An is about kicking back and enjoying the fabulous restaurants, the colonial French architecture with the local colour and traditions, but we discovered that it had even more to offer. It was here that we participated in the first cooking class of our trip, which included a visited to a local communal garden for herbs, another trip to purchase ingredients from the local produce market, then yet another trip, this time to the countryside, where we learned to create little plates of Vietnamese bliss. We came home by boat and the obliging old boatman, let me steer the mighty craft all the way back to Hoi An.

The next day we headed off-shore for some scuba diving around the islands. The visibility was good and the ocean didn’t disappoint, as numerous species of fish of all shapes, colours and sizes, swam around us in abundance. We even saw some large schools of yellow fin Barracuda. The dive was a huge deal for Katie, who suffered a life-long fear of deep water. Her face looked grim on the outgoing boat journey as she fortified herself to face the terror of a real life nightmare. With true courage she entered the water and sometime later emerged with a memorable smile. After conquering her greatest fear, she calmly entered the depths for a second dive.

After valiantly defeating the oceans we set out on the first of our progressive dinner courses, utilising differing restaurants throughout the town. We also caught up with Monique, our favourite Dutchy, and some fellow travellers we had met along the journey. On the way to our last restaurant we felt a strong desire to phone home. The news brought us undone. We found a quiet patch beside the river and both wept for Ben; a beautiful boy who had fought bravely and now travelled another path that the living can’t see.