It’s goodbye to little Russia Nha Trang and off to big Russia Doc Let in a short flight of fancy just 40km north. Inspired by images from Mr Do Dien Khanh in his little white room of photographs we’re off to a place that hasn’t graced many maps but has prodded us to change our course. So many images grabbed us in that studio from this place we’re heading to, images of people farming salt in simple traditional ways; everyday life as Mr Khanh puts it. Through the Nha Trang gauntlet of possibly the friendliest hostel hosts we’ve had this trip it’s onto our bikes, Rob and Greg, to chase visions of an image on a wall in a room. From one beach to another and neither of them are the reason for our visit. This part of Vietnam is popular with Russian tourists who flock from their cold world to relish the sun and sand that requires great generosity for us Australians to even call a beach. In another life riding up the coast to stay at a beachside resort for the opportunity to take some photos that may or may not eventuate seems folly, but the blessing of our traveller lives affords indulgences, a day chasing shadows is better than a day hiding from them. 

 From our weirdly cheap but rather plush beach resort we venture north of town to the salt flats to see what we’ve come here to see. In short not a lot beyond a beach and a bunch of dehydration pools that look nothing like the grand white spaces in the photos we’ve seen; there’s some inside knowledge here and we don’t have it. We do however have families harvesting seaweed on the beach and a trio of young boys rowing to shore in what can only be described as baby pools made of wicker to accompany the scooter procession along the shore. Never mind the dead dog on the beach Charlie points out to me as I attempt to enjoy baguette I went back into town for. 

Charlie Winn

Harvesting seaweed, Doc Let beach, Vietnam.

  We haven’t found the salt flats yet, not the ones we want anyway, but we have stumbled across what can only be found when we chase shadows; a real world scene that makes us think that the romantic photographs we saw in Nha Trang aren’t that idealistically romantic at all. In this scene that hasn’t graced a travel brochure Charlie takes photos of what our travel brochure might be, right down to the cheeky boys now ashore that try to sell us a packet of biscuits for a dollar. In the absence of the salt flats we have found a miracle; seriously, Charlie’s dead dog is now up and very much alive. That baguette was delicious. 

 Delicious or not, just one baguette is never enough for lunch so back into town we’re on the now customary pre-school sized chairs by the roadside for some ‘one’. One is a fabulous dish, we’ve been having it all across Vietnam, we sit down and hold up one finger and out comes food which all seems different but we order it the same way. This one is a fishy soup with noodles and fish cakes, of course it’s the only dish this lady does. The ‘one’ dish is a very Vietnamese thing, the idea of having small scale restaurants or stalls and specialising in one really good thing is something the rest of the world really needs to adopt; why do two average things when you can do one thing perfectly? As we leave the small tables crowded over by a tarpaulin flapping in the breeze there’s seven sets of eyes looking right at us. We’re heading back to big Russia and I can only guess that not a lot of white faces visit this stall as the chatter positively explodes upon our retreat.  

Charlie Winn

Coracles (Thúng Chai in Vietnamese) line Doc Let beach, Vietnam.

  The shadows have evaded us thus far and for a time we’re giving up the chase to be like the locals, the Russians that is and finally go into the ocean, I still can’t call this a beach. All local adventurous credit we gained on the beach with the dog zombie is now up in smoke, Charlie even falls asleep in a deck chair on the beach, but in Vietnam we’re visiting big Russia so of course: when in Rome.

 Dinner time comes and this indulgence simply has to stop, we walk across the road to a more local looking restaurant, or bar, who can really tell? A few shouted words and in a flash a cute little girl in pigtails comes bounding from next door to greet us. Her posture proud, her face confident she rattles off in her best Russian; well we don’t know what she says but I’m sure it was said perfectly. In a few charades time we’re next door for food with the little girl and her mum who can’t seem to believe we don’t speak Russian. We’ve come chasing the shadows of an artists vision and ended up with not a single shadow caught, in their place just a trip to a beach that didn’t make it onto the tourist trail. To think that we could have been safe and cosy in Nha Trang, who needs a shadow to declare a successful chase.