I’m not sure about you, but I’d never shared a bath with seven others before. I’d opted out of the onsen experience in Japan, ardently avoided the hammam in Turkey and generally try to make my bathing experiences a personal affair. And yet, there I was, with all these newly found travel companions, sitting in a spa-sized pit of therapeutic mud, enjoying its coolness on another sweltering mid-summer day in Vietnam. Plastic buckets skimmed across the surface of the mud and we continued to pour the silty water across our limbs, staying wet and out of the sun after a morning of being beaten down by its rays on the back of a bike.
I hadn’t expected this from a mud bath.
In fact, I really don’t know what I expected.
Like a mud mask, but more evenly spread?
An elaborate body wrap?
All I knew at the time, right up until I was in a bath of mineral water, was that I wasn’t all too keen to clamber off of the motorbike from the morning’s ride and would have much preferred to stay puttering about at street level long into the night. I also prefer to keep my clothes on in public. It’s a Dubai thing; I’ve been recultured and I’d just prefer to keep my pants on.
We had bustled our way around steaming hot pagodas, peered in on the prayers of the Mahayana monks and eavesdropped on public chanting lessons. We posed like ignorant tourists in a prayer stance in front of a giant Buddha, clambered up a million and five stairs, and warded off the sales pitches of fifty eight women with hand-held fans. Every time we stopped, we seemed to rush our way back to the bikes; everything was more blissful on the back of a bike. Someone else was in control, I could lose myself in the breeze, and the sunshine didn’t seem to hurt so much.
I love getting about on two wheels. I stole away under the glittering lights in Mumbai watching the evening beauty of the city unfold, veiled by the darkness and no longer betrayed by the harshness of the day’s light. I fluttered across the city in Ho Chi Minh, grasping more about the political and social nature of the city so close to the ground and connected to the inhabitants around me. The world goes by fast enough, but seemingly so much slower than when you are tucked away inside the security of a car or bus. You feel connected with the world in a totally new and fascinating way.
And then I was in a mud bath.
And then I was on a set of stone stairs, letting the mud dry on my skin, avoiding slipping about.
And then I was in an open shower, trying to rinse mud from all kinds of nether regions that shouldn’t contain mud. It wasn’t until I was rinsed off and soaking in a tub of mineral water, again with seven people, that I began to relax and unwind. The oddity of bathing in mud had passed, along with the confusion of not really knowing if we were doing the right thing or following the right arrows across the park. An entire day-spa-park-complex filled with group tubs, private tubs, mineral pools and showers can indeed be puzzling, and I wasn’t just bathing with seven others, but a good chunk of Nha Trang’s visiting and local population.
At least, once it was all said and done, and I had packaged my damp body back into the sticky clothes I’d worn that morning, with my bikini bottoms creating an awkward wet patch across my butt, I got to pull that helmet back on one more time. With the cute little bunny strapped across my head, I went back to do what so many are afraid to do, for fear of waiving their insurance. We burned across the city to our hotel by the beach, stopping for breathtaking shots of bays from bridges, while I calculated in my head how long it would take me to get to my next two-wheeled adventure.