Seaside Vietnam
in Nga Trang, Vietnam on 8th March, 2012

The eight-hour train ride from Saigon to Nha Trang was one of the most beautiful I've ever been on thus far. I saw thus far because I've heard amazing things about the landscapes I'll encounter during the rest of my journey up to the top of Vietnam. On the train I sat on a wooden bench with one to town people next to me throughout my journey. The window had a metal grid to look out of and food and drinks were on constant offer.

My fellow guests looked at me and smiled a lot. They looked on as a I read off my iPad and listened to music and checked the map on my iPhone. At one point there were eight passengers looking at me and smiling. None of them spoke English so it was weird that I couldn't break the awkward feeling with a bit of chitchat. Towards the end of my trip I showed them the map with GPS on my iPhone and there was a scrum as they all wanted to hold the phone and play with it.

Nha Trang is a beachside town where the economy seems to be focused on tourism. I have a love-hate relationship with places like this. They are beautiful and relaxing but tend to lack the diversity of things to do that you'd find in normal cities and a lot of the shops are full of stuff you'll never need. Selling balloons off the main street is a warning that your fellow travellers will be mostly overweight couples from Europe.

Barcelona, Nice and Dubai are exceptions to this. They all do a good tourist trade but there is so much more to these places than their beaches. These places are full of multilingual people keen to meet with others and streets with amazing amounts of character.

In a number of places I've been to on this trip it's been fairly easy to pick out a stranger in a pub, restaurant, chance street encounter or whatever and strike up a conversation. When I see people in pairs looking like they rarely travel it puts me off from striking up a conversation. If I don't see locals buying stuff in any of the shops it makes me feel that a place is artificial. When I feel like I'm the only independent traveler in a town I'm glad that I'm not staying long.

When I took the photos for this blog I ventured out away from the beach down a lot of obscure alleyways. I was keen to find where the locals were living and track down some streets with character. I was rewarded with a lot of shots I ended up keeping. Some streets look like they belong in Rio more than somewhere in South East Asia.

The street food hasn't let up so far. I had a really nice meal in a back alley where only one dish was on offer and they didn't sell drinks themselves. It was a lovely beef soup with a plate full of vegetables. The seats and tables were plastic and would normally only be big enough for kids to sit at during the summer. Most customers were effectively squatting as they ate. The meal came with some hot chilli sauce and in total cost £0.95.

At another street vendor I bought 2L of water, a bottle of iced tea and three cans of beer for £1.52. Things have been so much cheaper in Vietnam than I expected. I'm not even bothering to make sure I'm in budget as my estimates were astronomical compared to what I'm actually spending.

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