Grogily, I get off the train in Nga Thran at 5:30 am. I am immediately waved down by a guy with a hotel suggestion and a cab to take me there. I try to brush him off, but he’s stuck to me. I just want to get oriented, but he won’t give up. I tell him the cab is too expensive, so he offers to take me on his bike. Fine.
The hotel he brings me to looks nice, and the monks leaving feel like a good sign, but its $20 a night. Too expensive. He takes me to another place, $12 with AC. Fine. He wants 100,000 VNB for the ride, and I can only get him down to 80 ($3.50 USD).
The one great thing about most of these hotels is you can pretty much check in/out whenever you want. I am able to get into my room immediately, shower and change. The hotel wants to know if I want to go on a tour, and I say I want to go snorkeling. It’ll be $10 and they’ll pick me up at 8:30. Good.
I need to find breakfast. The hotel says I can find some anywhere, but when I stroll around, I don’t see anything for me. There are men on the street, sitting in short red chairs, drinking coffee. I don’t feel comfortable joining them. As I stroll back to the hotel, a food cart women stops me. She writes 30,000 ($1.30 USD) on a piece of paper. I nod. She points to a bowl of chicken and another of chopped red something (pork?). I point to the chicken, even though it looks like just the skin of the thigh bones. She points to the skinny noodles or fat noodles, I nod to the fat noodles.
First she takes a handful of the noodles, places them in a mesh colander, and dips them into the hot broth. Next she takes pieces of white chicken meat and shreds it. (the thigh skin was just keeping the meat moist). She puts the noodles and chicken in a big bowl, sprinkles green onions on top, and fills it with broth. It was the best $1.30 meal I’ve ever had.
The tour is 20 minutes late picking me up, and I immediately feel unwanted. Even though the bus isn’t full, it seems there are no seats for me. I squish into one, or half of one, because the other occupant refused to give me any space. Soon it becomes evident that I am the only anglo, and these Chinese tourist don’t looked dressed to snorkel. They look and act like they are ready for a fashion show. Three girls in particular spend the entire trip taking selfies, when they’re not smoking.
The first stop is to the aquarium. It’s an extra 100,000 VND ($4.40 USD). I decline and get myself a Vietnamese coffee. I invite myself to sit with two Asian men. In a thick Korean accent, the first asks where I’m from. When I say Canada, they tell me they’re from New Jersey. I watch them return the fried chicken they ordered because is rotten, and ask for napkins but get told they cost 1,000 VND ($0.04). We talk travel and they recommend I eat a Louisiane and go to the mud baths.
The second stop is snorkeling. It costs 30,000 VND ($1.30 USD) to go on the beach. I manage to avoid paying by walking straight through the entrance. No one is in the water. Asian girls are making various poses so their friends or boyfriends can take their picture. I swim around and am thoroughly unimpressed. The water is murky and there isn’t much to see anyway.
I swim to the other side, and almost get hit by a boat because there are no markers in the water. I eventually find some fish and coral to look at, but some of it is just garbage. I look down at the fish, and they look up at me as if they are thinking “What are you doing here?”.
Before lunch our guide says we can order sea urchin soup for 100,000 VND ($4.50 USD). I say I’ve never had it, and he doesn’t suggest I try. No one in the group opted for the soup. The meal is the worst I’ve had on the trip. Rice, shrimp, and fried chicken was good. Guests spitting shrimp shell onto the table top was less appealing, as was the pig-ear looking pork, soggy vegetables, and soup of something. But I was the only one who didn’t seem to like it.
After a nap, waiting for something to happen, we’re told it’s time for the entertainment. Up until now my guide has had no personality and has said little more than “Get off the boat.” We are aske to get on our boat, and then get off and get onto another boat, but I just stay where I am. A homemade drum kit has been set up and my guide is playing with a microphone.
Soon the band starts to play, the guide starts to sing, and the guests go wild. They scream and clap their hands like he’s turned into Justin Bieber. Their glee amuses me. He asks the crowd where they are from, and says there are Chinese, Japanese, and Canadian. Then he’s singing in Chinese to the turn of Frere Jacques. They squeal like teeny-boppers and sign along. I wonder if he knows this is a folk song. Next chorus he sings in French, and points to me, I oblige and sing along.
After the concert it’s time for drinks and swimming. The guides jump in with a bottle of and plastic glasses for shots. The kids jump in too, some of them fully clothed. I just saw the restaurant staff sweep all the garbage into the water (plastic and cigarettes included), so I stay on the boat.
The final stop is a beach for swimming. It costs another 30,000 VND ($1.30 USD). Just when I start the think about how to avoid the fee, and Brit argues with her friends that it’s less than 1£. They pay, and I pay and go for a dip.
The funless guide plays camp games on the beach with the tourists from another boat. They are having hysterical fun. I finish reading a book.
After a tour on my scooter, I go to Louisiane Brewhouse for dinner. The place is packed. It’s right on the beach and has a live band playing classic rock tunes. I have Thai style prawns and lemon mousse.