Swimming in Vietnam

Being a Pool Boy

I never thought swimming in a pool would be a new experience. But my trip to Vietnam held new things around every corner, in every alleyway. The unusual hidden just behind the usual.

Thursday morning of my first week in Saigon, I swam in the pool in the office complex where our office is.  I arrived, paid my 70,000 Dong, received my towel and locker key, changed into my swimsuit and then headed out to the pool. The following series of events ensued….
1. I noticed that everyone in the pool was Vietnamese. This was not a shock.
2. Calling what they were doing “swimming” would be a compliment. i would not really say there was a “swimmer” in the entire pool, though they were moving back and forth in the water doing laps.
3. There were no lane lines, but some painted lines on the bottom of the pool. Those lines appeared to be ignored as well.
4. People were mostly just “swimming” back and forth, each person having their straight line, from what i could tell.  i couldn’t make out any of the traditional “circle swim” or other patterns you see in lap pools.
5. i hopped in about 2/3rds of the way down the pool, where there was less drowning and more swimming-like movements, and some freestyle (the rest of the pool was sort-of-breaststroking).
6. As i swam, i was slowly being “herded” to the far end of the pool: A space would open up because the person next to me had moved over to the other side of me.
7. Eventually, i was swimming next to the wall, which is great because i don’t have to worry about clocking anyone as I swam and they thrashed around.
8. I was swimming somewhere around 2-3 times faster than anyone else in the pool. While this was in some ways an awesome feeling, it also felt quite bizarre.
9. After about 10 minutes, I noticed most people in the pool had stopped swimming and were just leaning up against the far wall.
10. I finished the set i was on and also leaned against the wall.
11. A few lanes down, a woman said hello.  Her name was Anna.
“What is your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“We are all very interested in you.”
“You are a very strong swimmer.”
“And very handsome” (my response was: you must be blind)
Meanwhile the other four women next to her are giggling.
12. Throughout my workout I noticed people ducking underwater to watch how I swam.
13. I eventually finished and left the pool.  As I left, Anna said “have a great rest of your day, mate.” I think I might have been hit on.

Rehearsal for Ironman Vietnam?

A couple of days before I went to Da Nang for holiday, I looked up Ironman Vietnam, and discovered it is in Da Nang! This year is the first year they will run the half-Ironman, in May. Even before arriving, I had decided to seriously consider the event for next May, as a potential warm-up to a full in Cairns next June.

The beach in Da Nang is beautiful. I was definitely going for a swim. But I decided to go for a run first, then cool off with a swim. The week before my diet and training regime was well, almost non-existent, but I thought a 10K would certainly be manageable. Even at 8 AM, it was warm, though I’ve run in worse. The humidity was incredibly high. I ran along the sidewalks from my hotel to the Hyatt, which is the host location for the Ironman in May.

Along the run, there were work teams of women in head to toe covering, with traditional Vietnamese hats (nón lá), cutting grass with scissors, pulling weeds by hand. They smiled as I smiled at them. Along the run, almost everyone waved or smiled as I ran, dripping more and more with sweat. Just 5K I could feel the dehydration set it, a slight headache and gradually growing dizziness.

I used a statue factory as a turnaround point. I jogged over and asked a sales woman if they just had water to buy. She immediately began to try to sell me a statue. I asked how much the 2 meter wide and 3 meter tall marble Buddha cost. “$35,000 US.” I explained that I loved it but I could not carry it since I was running, and she turned to several colleagues who were vulturing on the balcony above, making running motions and saying something that all made them laugh. I’m sure it was complimenting me on my physique. She turned back to me and said, “We can ship it to you.” I asked again about water, chugged the bottle, and set back to running. I soon regretted the chug.

5K later I staggered back into the hotel, soaked in sweat, changed into the swimsuit I had, and jumped into the ocean. I swam for about 20 minutes in the ocean. Shallow and beautiful, and no jellyfish, sharks, crocs.

Da Nang Street Food

Justus and I hit up a street food tour of Da Nang, which included the best Ba Minh I had on the trip, and the following menu across five different stops:

  • Bánh mì que – toasty breadstick sandwich with pork floss
  • Cánh gá hai còi – best BBQ chicken in Da Nang
  • Bánh xèo + Nem lụi – crispy pancakes and BBQ pork sticks
  • Vả trộn tôm thịt – unripe fig salad with prawns and pork
  • Ếch xào lá chanh – stir-fried frog with herbs
  • Mực chiên mắm – squid fried in fish sauce
  • Dừa bến tre – coconut dessert

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Our next-to-final stop, at a local place which translates as “Fat Now”

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At the end of the evening we went to the dragon bridge, which at 9 PM breathes fire and shoots out water

Hoi An… Not going back there

In Hoi An, we rented bicycles with baskets and bells, and rode each morning down to the beach. The first day, we ended up at a public beach, with massive sandbags holding the beach together, and animal shaped trash cans.

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One of the trash cans at the public beach on Hoi An

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The beach parking for bicycles. Bikes were $1 a day to rent. Parking it here was $2.

The next day, we rode to hidden beach, which isn’t actually hidden. Instead of swimming, I body surfed again and again. The waves were perfect, enough for me to almost look like I’ve been doing it all my life.

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Hidden beach. Really not that hidden

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Otherwise Hoi An is really touristy and not my bowl of pho, even though it can be pretty

Saigon

Overall, I am amazed with the palpable energy that Saigon throws off in every direction. Sunday night the clubs are filled with young professionals, but not drinking themselves to death the way Aussies attempt to do every weekend.

The city is becoming increasingly Western, but still has so much great to offer. The air quality is horrendous, thanks to the tens of thousands of scooters (that they call motorbikes – sorry, they’re scooters). A top the rooftop of our corporate apartment, a friend and I lamented that 20 years ago the traffic would have been all bicycles and very few cars or scooters.

I’ll back in Saigon in September – can’t wait. Here are a few more pics:

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A “beer club” on a Sunday night

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Rooftop view form the AB Tower in district 1

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A bowl of pho. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

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Cousin Nhung instructing me on the right way to eat everything

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Thuc Anh, who runs the JIRA team in Saigon with me at a rooftop deck. Also pictured: half of Liam

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Nick brings it at the JIRA Landing Event in Saigon. Massive turnout, over 400 energetic young technologists.

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