Our extended boat trip in and around Nha Trang bay has been billed as a “day of pampering” – much needed after the bus-bound rigours of the past couple of days. However, our simple wooden boat has no sundeck, the bench seating is hard (especially after several hours afloat, especially when you have a nasty weeping sore on your backside), the waters are choppy (several of the group succumb to seasickness, while I grimly concentrate on the horizon line, thinking calming thoughts), and the scenery isn’t a patch on Halong Bay (by now, we have become thoroughly spoilt).
Nevertheless, we have fun availing ourselves of the services on offer from the crew: manicure, pedicure and “traditional Vietnamese massage”. My massage – firmly applied, but much gentler than the brutal pummelling I received in Turkey two years ago – is excellent therapy, leaving me tingling and re-energised. Well, okay, only for a while; I’m not operating at full strength today, physically or mentally.
There is a late afternoon visit to the house and studios of Long Thanh, a photographer of international repute. He is a gently charismatic man, with the confident yet laid-back air of someone who is entirely at ease with his talent and reputation. After much deliberation, we eventually walk away with a study of two elderly Nha Trang beggar ladies, their faces creased up in a kind of girlish laughter. We are strongly reminded of the two beggar ladies from the previous afternoon, on receiving their new coolie hats. As a representative image of Vietnam to stick on the wall back home, this is as good as we will find.
We have all been dreading our second overnight sleeper train. This time round, the air conditioning is working fine – so we won’t roast. However, our bedding is in a decidedly questionable state of hygiene. Our sheet sleeping bags are covered in long hairs, and exude an aroma of lightly laundered vomit. What’s more, they are all covered in dried lumps of a greeny-grey residue which looks suspiciously like snot. We elect to sleep on top, fully clothed, as best as we can.