My original plan for Vietnam was always to head up to Haolong Bay for New Year. No particular reason other than the pictures that I’d googled looked fantastic. However, travelling needs flexibility and heading to North Vietnam for this one thing seemed like it would be expensive and time consuming and after hearing from Laura-Lynn on Christmas day that it wasn’t that great if you didn’t have the weather I thought the last week of my travels could be better spent somewhere else.
I was researching what I could do in Southern Vietnam and coming up with a few things that looked interesting, but I wasn’t keen on bouncing round from place to place in my last week – I wanted something more chilled out as I’m back at work the day after I arrive in London. As I was eating my cheese omelette for Christmas dinner my eyes started wandering around the restaurant and landed on a travel board which advertised different local activities, one in particular caught my attention. Scuba diving.
It’s been five years since I first tried scuba diving. I remember it being a lot of fun but unfortunately I didn’t get to complete my PADI qualification due to bad weather stopping our open water dives. Who would’ve thought there’d be bad weather in December in the English Channel? I had a year to complete the open water dives following the training I did but 2010 was a year of travel so I couldn’t squeeze it in. The opportunity had come back around though and I started Googling potential locations in Vietnam. The first dive school teaching PADI that came up was Rainbow Divers, with a couple of locations across Vietnam and being open for twenty years they seemed like a good choice.
I was still running low on cash and with $51 in my wallet and had to get this sorted when I got to Ho Chi Minh. My hostel lottery didn’t work this time and although the dorm and bathroom was semi accessible there were fifteen steps I had to climb to get to reception. Another trip to the cash machine later that day was met by another failure to withdraw cash. This was getting slightly concerning so I got on the phone to Barclaycard. After a ten minute conversation with someone who was fairly unhelpful I found that I had almost reached my limit on cash withdrawal on my credit card. I could get out another £110 and that was it. I’d previously tried to withdraw more hence it not working. So my immediate problem had been sorted but that money wasn’t going to last me for the full week if I wanted to do anything other than sit in the hotel. I decided to carry on with my plans and work something out later on.
I contacted Rainbow Divers and found out a bit more about what I needed to do next. I was pushed for time so I’d have to get on it. I needed to complete the online theory course that would take the best part of a day then get up to Nha Trang which was a day on the bus complete three days of diving then get the bus back. It could be done and would leave me a couple of days in the city when I got back. The next day I sat in front of a computer studying diving theory which is definitely not what I wanted to be doing but if it meant going diving then I consider it a necessary evil.
Booking into the hotel recommended to me by Rainbow I was impressed to see a level of accessibility that I’d not seen since I was in Bangladesh at the accessible accommodation at the CRP. It was getting late but I thought I could set off round town for a quick look round and grab something to eat. Taking several random left and rights I found myself in front of place called Local where I stopped to take a look at the menu which seemed like it was what I wanted. I sat down at a table looking onto the street when a guy came over and started chatting the usual tourist talk. Getting into the conversation I found out this was Mr Son, the owner of the restaurant. I noticed that they accepted credit cards at this place and thought that Mr Son could be the person to help me out with my lack of cash. I asked him if he could charge a couple of hundred dollars to my card and then give me cash back which he agreed to without batting an eyelid. What a legend. My money troubles had been averted and I could get back on with enjoying my trip with one less thing on my mind. It wasn’t the last time I’d see Mr Son as his restaurants were both served really good food at a decent price and I became a regular over my time in Nha Trang.
The next morning I went back to the Rainbow office to meet up with Serena and Cameron who would be teaching me the skills on the PADI open water course. We filled in the necessary paperwork while we waited for the doctor to come along. The call out doctor was great, taking my pulse and checking my heartbeat before signing me off as fit to dive. The $15 I paid for the check-up was considerably cheaper than the $150 I was quoted in Ho Chi Minh. When the paper work was done we set off to the pool where the initial training would take place before we went to the sea.
Getting back in the water with all the gear on was fantastic and just as fun as I remember it being. I’ve always been a confident swimmer so diving and moving around underwater wasn’t a problem. The first time I tried this I was told that teaching me to dive was like teaching a fish to swim. Everything went well in the pool session and after completing the training we were set to go in the sea the next day.
Diving days are an early start, meeting at 7am at the office. Luckily for me this was just across the road from the hotel. We set off on the bus to the docks and ten minutes later we were there. In terms of accessibility the docks weren’t too bad; I had ramps all the way down to the boat – which was another matter entirely. Like every other mode of transport over this way, I was on the floor lifting myself to my seat, then to the back of the boat for the dive area. This was nothing compared to putting on a shortie wetsuit while sitting up on a moving boat, I did it but it took a good chunk of the 45 minute journey to the dive site to do. With no changing room there was a balancing act of getting on the wet suit while attempting to protect my modesty. I think I was successful at that.
Over the next two days I did four dives and had an absolute blast. Diving is so much fun and just left me wondering why I hadn’t done this sooner. According to Serena I was taking to this like a natural and it certainly felt that way, apparently I’m the first person she has taught that has taken off their mask and regulator for a photo on their first dive. The two days flew by and I was now a PADI qualified open water diver meaning I can go anywhere in the world and dive. This wasn’t enough though. I’d had so much fun over the last couple of days, I was sure this was something I’d keep up and decided to take a step further and do my advanced open water diver course which would take an additional two days and mean that I could dive to a depth of 30 metres as opposed to 18 before.
There was a bit more theory work to do but there were also more interesting dives including buoyancy, search and recovery, underwater navigation and deep diving. Over five days here, I’ve managed nine open water dives and have gained three qualifications – Open Water, Nitrox & Advanced Open Water. But much more importantly, I’ve found something that I enjoy doing and will no doubt be doing a lot more of in the future.
Diving here in Nha Trang has been a brilliant way to end what has been an incredible (but exhausting) six week trip in Asia. I’ve met some great people, tried so many new thing, seen a lot of fantastic sights and pushed myself more than I have in a long time. It’s been a long time since I’ve been travelling but this has reminded why I love it so much. My sense of adventure has been reignited and I’m already thinking about what I’ll be doing for the rest of this year. Watch this space.