travel bite: Quy Nhon, Vietnam

I ENTER the newly constructed shopping centre in a frenzy. There must be a toilet in here. There are always toilets in these places. I repeat these mantras to myself as I scour the ground floor for signs.

Success! I rush in; saunter out. And relax… Well now that I’m here I might as well take a look around.

The mall itself is half complete, plasterboard walls separate beauty, clothing and electrical stands, new cubicles being erected in the shadows.

As I wind my way up the floors – amidst smiles and whispers from the curious locals – someone firmly grabs my elbow from behind as I ascend the escalator. I turn around. A well groomed, smartly dressed, older lady bares her teeth up at me. I read this as a smile, albeit a terrified one. Her body is awkwardly tilted forward, clearly unsteady.

I’d spotted the woman standing at the bottom as I’d walked past, in what I now understand to have been fear of stepping upon the moving stairs. She’d finally taken a leap of faith. And as a result she was now attached to my arm.

No worries, I’m happy to help her brave the escalator. Though there is the tiny matter of her stepping off; there will be no option for her to hover apprehensively at that end.

In my mind I imagine that she will simply follow as I do.

But no.

As we approach the top I take my time, slowly demonstrating how to smoothly walk off onto the next level. My lady friend however – legs locked together at the ankles – rocks back onto her heels, lifting up the balls of her feet in preparation for her exit. And as the solid ground moves in beneath her soles she slides onto the metal grate. For the briefest moment she pauses, and without so much as a glance in my direction she continues off on her way.

It was as though her fear was a figment of my imagination, she hadn’t just needed my assistance. But as I do a final circuit and make my way out of the building I spy others displaying similar phobias of the escalators.

Despite Quy Nhon’s developed appearance it is surprising, and refreshing, to be in a place where escalators are still a relative novelty, foreigners even more so. Especially in Vietnam, where it is far too easy to get caught up in the ‘tourist trail’, unlikely to see the country for its true self.

Quy Nhon is a breath of fresh air. Locals are eager to practice their limited English, and you are greeted with warm curiosity and enjoyment in attempting to communicate with you. Though the amount of times you find yourself responding to barks of hello, smiles and stares can also be exhausting.

But then you head to the sweeping golden sands, and are swallowed up in the early evening throng of teenagers playing sport and elders practicing Tai Chi, or into the alleys filled with street food, the vibrant market or the cham ruins, and you at once feel at peace – soaking up life in a real Vietnamese city.

If you do go, stay at Barbara’s Kiwi Cafe, recently moved and offering cheap dorm beds or a double room, friendly service, free use of laptops and free wifi.

A cat curled up asleep at the market, oblivious to the bounty of fish and seafood being sold a stones throw away...

Banh Beo: steamed rice paste topped with crushed dried shrimp, peanuts, chives and a chilli, garlic and fish sauce mix.

Quy Nhon's cham towers: outside. And inside...

Fat juicy snails cooked with lemongrass, chives and ginger leaves, served with a chilli dip, green mango and fresh herbs.

Do as the locals do in Quy Nhon - toss your empty snail shells onto the street floor.

Colourful posters resembling old communist artwork are to be found everywhere in Quy Nhon.

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