Shots are handed out from the floating bar as backpackers on inflatable rings shout and jostle for more. The same intoxicated swimmers are soon leaping from the top of the boat into the emerald blue, narrowly missing the other drunken revellers.
In the West this might be seen as a serious breach of health and safety regulations; in Vietnam it’s just another day in the coastal city of Nha Trang.
Vietnam’s most infamous boat trip in the country’s most popular beach resort town starts around 8.30am with pick-up from your hotel, hostel or guesthouse. You’re then whisked off to the jetty where hundreds of backpackers climb aboard no less than ten different boats.
The first stop, the Tri Nguyen Aquarium on Hon Mieu Island, does nothing to put you in the right frame of mind for the boat tour ahead. Admission is not included with the price of the tour so you have to decide whether to cough up the extra 50,000 Vietnamese dong ($2.50 US) or sit and wait in the boat.
A world-class aquarium it definitely is not. Set in a giant concrete pirate ship, the aquarium itself is far more interesting than the sea creatures inside it. And, if you climb the many stairs to the top of the ship, it affords a lovely view of the island.
Next comes the snorkelling portion of the Nha Trang boat trip. The second stop in the four-island tour is a marked improvement on the first, although it still fell short of this New Zealander’s lofty expectations.
I’ve just about seen more fish while standing on shore than I did in Nha Trang and I saw a lot more fish on a snorkelling trip in Koh Samui, Thailand, four years previously. Meanwhile, it appears to be a universal fact of life in South East Asia that all snorkel gear is old, leaky and in dire need of replacement.
Nevertheless, snorkelling is not the point of this trip – and if anyone tells you it is then they are lying to you.
After lunch we got down to the real business of the trip and the reason why the Nha Trang boat trip is so infamous with backpackers in Vietnam. The entertainment.
Satisfied from a large lunch of fish, rice, soup and salad, I was enjoying an ice-cold Tiger in the sun, trading stories with fellow backpackers, when everyone went deathly silent. When I turned to see what everyone was staring at, my mind reeled in horror.
The tour group leader had climbed on top of the lunch table. In drag. He was joined by the crew on instruments, with the drummer dragging out a ramshackle set of plastic buckets on a bamboo frame.
For the next half hour or so the band belted out a number of Vietnamese classics (none of which I knew) before dragging travellers up on stage and playing a song from their country.
Then the drinking really began everyone onboard scrambled into the ocean for shots of fruit wine (isn’t all wine made of fruit?).
The boat stops one last time for a bit of rest and relaxation on a lovely, all-but inhabited island on the way back to Nha Trang.
But it’s also worth mentioning that the Nha Trang boat trip is definitely not for everyone. While researching this blog post I came across a number of complaints from disgruntled travellers who didn’t get what they bargained for.
The Nha Trang boat trip is likely to appeal to a (slightly) younger, more fun-loving crowd than your average boat trip. Similarly, this being Vietnam, you need to be a little bit more patient here than you would elsewhere.
As for the drinking, well, it’s hardly the most drunken boat trip in the world – and I’ve been on a few – but there is a bit of drinking involved and I’d recommend you down at least a few before the entertainment begins and you’re dragged up on stage to perform a song from your homeland.
The best advice would be to relax, drink up and bring lots of sun block.