Nha Trang – Guided Exploration vs Unguided Exploration

There has been a whole host of studies on how different people learn, and I think that some of that psychology plays out in how people approach new, or uncomfortable situations. Hours are spent researching and learning and getting as prepared as possible. As the learner approaches the unfamiliar situation, they have studied the potential pitfalls and problems that could arise. They know what to avoid, what to see, and what to learn. Alternatively, some approach new situations with a “feet first” mindset. There is little to no research in what is in store, what is to be expected, and what is “normal.” In Nha Trang we had a couple tastes of both guided and unguided exploration; we learned that we can see the value in both. As with most things in life, striving to find balance is always the best path.

On our second day in Nha Trang, we took the guided path, and set out on a guided snorkeling trip to Hon Mun Island. At $35 bucks a person, it was on the spendier side, but there was free van pick up, fresh fruit breakfast with coffee/tea, a Bahn Mi lunch provided, and 2 snorkeling locations around Hon Mun Island. As we learned from our guides, the surrounding 300 meters (1,000 ft) around Hon Mun island is a protected area. The promise of thriving coral we had seen on the trip advertisement was one of the main things we were eager to see. Unfortunately, we also learned that outside of the protected area, the sea is largely dead from overfishing and from human influence. It was sad that the whole area had been decimated aside from the one section of protected area, but this seems to be the way of the world as we know it. Once we jumped in the water for our first snorkel stop, it was clear that this would be a real treat for snorkeling. The coral was simply amazing. Giant sections of coral bright in color and shape were unlike anything I had ever seen. From big petal looking flowers, to smoke stacks of varying size; it was SOOO cool. On top of that, bright blue green fish and a whole wide range of other sea creatures swam in and out of the coral, including an alarming amount of jellyfish.

Underwater Go Pro shot!

If anyone has seen the movie or read the book The Sphere, and can recall the jellyfish scene, you now have a visual for what the water was like. Small jellyfish ranging in size from your fingernail or smaller, to the size of a fist floated along the top of the water.  As you cruised through the top layer enjoying the coral, slight stinging sensations along your chest, arms, and legs occurred, but 3 minutes later would subside. Yet we knew this was coming. Our guide had prepared us that jellyfish were in the water and reassured us that they were not poisonous. They would give a slight sting, but it would subside. Although mildly unpleasant, if we were unprepared, we may have had a mild to severe panic attack in the water, which is less than ideal. We had a fantastic time on our trip. Little thought was required, and mainly we were able absorb information that our guides gave us, and enjoy some of the protected, pristine underwater playgrounds of Hon Mun Island.

To contrast, the rest of our time in Nha Trang was spent learning how to get around the area on our own by exploring the outer areas, pagodas, and surrounding wilderness. After our motorbike experience on arrival in Nha Trang, we had a new-found confidence in our ability to ride a motorbike. I mean, if we could do it with 35-40 lb. packs, then we could do it with a day pack and the two of us! Mandy is the better driver between the two of us, and ever since Vietnam became our first destination on our trip, she had her mind set on driving a motorbike. In general, we approached these days with a loose idea of destination, but we had little to no idea what was in store.

Mandy, Wheel Woman

Yet in the end, here is what learned how to do. Drive a motorbike through Vietnamese cities, taking a left turn across a freeway and rush hour traffic, set roles (Mandy = Wheel Woman, Matt = Navigator), self-guided pagoda tours, climbing up 3 sets of rock formations, including a 20-30 ft. section of rope ladder, drinking a healthy amount of Bia Saigon, soaking in mud baths, soaking in waterfalls, and so much more. Although we had no guide, we had to think a LOT more, specifically on our feet. “This ATM is out of cash, lets map to the next.” “Google says the gas station is right here (clearly isn’t), I guess we go to the next one. Time for a U-turn and a Left Turn (2 of our least favorite words).” “Do you think we can park here?” These experiences didn’t cost much, in most cases nothing, but certainly left a feeling of accomplishment and joy.

My turn to climb up the janky rope ladder, couldn’t be happier

No matter how you approach new or uncomfortable situations, I think it is important to have some time being guided and some time learning on your own. Sometimes you can overthink something and talk yourself out of an amazing experience. Other times, you can fly by something that would incredibly interesting and fulfilling because your absorbed in the present task. The key, and the challenge, is to strike the right balance between the two.

Gettin pruny in the mud at Thap Ba Spa
Just cheesin in the waterfall at Ba Ho Waterfalls

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