In case you hadn’t noticed, being a tourist isn’t ‘cool’ any more. If you believe many travel bloggers/writers/brands/guides (delete as appropriate), if you’re not ‘doing it like a local’ these days, you’re doing it wrong.
Well guess what? For most types of travel, if you’re not enjoying it, you’re doing it wrong… and that should be all that matters. Enjoyment.
On a recent trip to Vietnam, I’ll admit I went looking for the local experiences. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
In my thirst to experience the best of the country in the short time I had there, I was always keeping my eyes open for things to do that were off the so-called beaten track. A little less touristy, a little less known, a little more Vietnamese.
Well I found one such place, whilst staying in the far from undiscovered Nha Trang.
Now I liked Nha Trang itself… alot. It’s probably the most popular beach resort in Vietnam and yes it’s touristy, it’s overrun by Russians and it’s not the ‘real’ Vietnam. But it boasts a lovely beach, a beautiful mountain backdrop and lively night life. Perfect for a few nights of partying and a few days of recovering on a sunlounger.
However, in doing my research I also read about a nearby place called Bai Dai, or ‘long beach’ as it translates as. Apparently a beautiful, long sheltered bay with a strip of beach shacks serving fantastic, fresh seafood right on the sand. A ‘favourite with locals’. A real ‘hidden gem’ that mustn’t be missed.
We were sold.
So as much as we were enjoying Nha Trang beach, we left behind its well-manicured waterfront to see what was on offer out at the more rugged Bai Dai.
After our taxi driver eventually worked out where we wanted to go we were dropped off 35 minutes later in a barren looking, dusty orange car park behind a row of beach shacks-cum-restaurants that lead down to the beach. Eager to cash in on the return journey to Nha Trang, our driver agreed to wait for us whilst we were there.
We were planning a sunbathe and a swim followed by a seafood dinner in the beach restaurants we’d read about, so we told him we’d be about three hours or so, then made our way down through the shacks and onto the beach, ready to experience the undiscovered beauty that is Bai Dai.
So what was it like?
Well yes it’s hidden and yes it sure is naturally beautiful.
But it’s also a bit of a dump. Sorry. But despite how it looks in the pictures, it is.
It’s undeniably local, but unfortunately that also means there’s litter strewn across the lovely white sand. The only thing I couldn’t work out was whether it was washed up from the sea or blown from the makeshift rubbish tip that lies at the north end of the beach. Either way, it’s the sort of thing that would probably be cleaned up were this a ‘tourist’ beach.
Not willing to be put off by a spot of litter, we made our way south along the beach to a quieter spot of sand where we laid down our beach towels and settled for a sunbathe.
Moments later we heard a pounding on the sand, and the sound was getting closer. We looked up to see two small, straggly dogs come bounding out of one of the shacks and start playing in the sand just a couple of metres away.
I’m not a fan of dogs, even less so when their disturbing my peaceful sunbathe. But it was no big deal. Just a momentary interruption.
So we ignored the dogs and got back to the sunbathing. We’d just about closed our eyes again when next a huge (albeit malnourished) Alsatian came sprinting towards the other dogs, launching itself into a full on attack.
Biting, wrestling, gauging, mauling, growling and screeching ensued – and it wasn’t pleasant.
The fighting dogs could’ve belonged to the shacks, to other local beach-goers, they could’ve been strays, but no one came out to split them up. No one called over to stop it. And there was no way I was going to go near the gnarling, potentially rabid beasts myself. So all we could do was sit and watch as a gruesome mauling took place before our eyes.
Ah, local bliss.
It was horrible to witness and we genuinely feared for the smaller dogs’ lives (and didn’t feel totally safe ourselves), but eventually they wriggled free from the Alsatian and fled into the water.
We’d seen quite enough, and fled to find somewhere new.
As we strolled Bai Dai looking for another place to catch some rays it soon became apparent that these weren’t the only dogs on the beach. Lying on the restaurant chairs, swimming in the sea, running across the sand, there were loads of them… and they absolutely stunk. You could smell their stench from a good few metres away.
Between the dogs, the litter and the flies (probably attracted by a combination of smelly dogs and scattered rubbish) we didn’t really find any other areas of the beach that appealed to us.
Would we be struggling to find a safer, cleaner area were this place more geared towards tourists? Probably not.
We were off the beaten track, but it’s fair to say it wasn’t really enjoyable.
So we left.
Yep, we headed back up to the car park two hours earlier than planned, found our taxi driver and made our way back to Nha Trang.
Our attempt at ‘doing it like a local’ wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
And what of the gorgeous seafood dinner we were so looking forward to? Well, given our surroundings and the fact a brutal dog fight was still fresh in our minds, we’d kind of lost our appetite.
We did later eat in a restaurant back in ‘touristy’ Nha Trang though. And it was bloody fantastic.
Now don’t get me wrong, getting out to the places less travelled is often the most rewarding thing you can do. In fact, some of the other more local experiences we had in Vietnam were by far some of the best.
And I’m not for one moment saying you shouldn’t try Bai Dai. As a beach alone it’s beautiful.
But it’s worth remembering – especially in developing countries – that sometimes, just sometimes, off the beaten track isn’t always best.