We arrived at the train station in Nah Trang at around 4.30pm and as usual there seemed to be a taxi waiting there just for us. We made the short 10 minute drive south along the beach to the Thang Bom Hotel and made our way to our room. It was better than the room we had in Ho Chi Minh City, this one had two beds, a big window and a balcony. It also had a tiny desk with a couple of chairs which made working on this site a whole lot easier.
By the time we got settled and went for a walk it was getting dark. But we easily found a street food vendor to have dinner, then moved on to another vendor for a fresh fruit juice. They love their fruit juice in Vietnam, there’s a vendor on every corner!
Our first impressions of Nha Trang were that it wasn’t quite as ‘Vietnam’ as the rest of Vietnam. But it was dark and we really couldn’t get a decent reading on the place so we thought we’d hold our judgement until we had a proper look around the next day.
The following morning we ventured to the sixth floor for breakfast and it was a bit of a let down. The choices were limited and every dish was served with a massive bread roll. In fact, along with fruit juice vendors there’s generally someone selling meat and salad rolls right next to them. Seriously, if you’re trying to go carb free Vietnam is not for you. Every meal we have has either a rice or bread base, there’s no escaping it! Hopefully our waistlines come out the other side roughly the same size as when we arrived.
Am I in Vietnam or Russia?
Our first impressions of Nha Trang were right, it feels a little soul-less, a bit like the Gold Coast in Queensland only with more Vietnamese, and a whole heap more Russians. Just like the Gold Coast is a haven for the Japanese, or Bali is a popular beach destination for Australians, Nha Trang is the go to sand and sun spot for Russians. Almost every shop’s signage is in both Vietnamese and Russian, and most of the locals speak a little of the language. I wish they spoke a little more English too, but that’s just the arrogant English speaking Westerner coming out in me.
In simple terms, Nha Trang is a long expanse of beach with four lanes of traffic and high rise hotels running parallel. Given Vietnam is becoming more and more popular with foreign tourists, and consequently Nha Trang is becoming increasingly well known, there’s a lot of construction going on around the beach area with plenty of unfinished high rise hotels shooting up into the sky at a rapid pace. There are other areas of town, such as the busy shopping area around the train station, but most tourists come here for the beach and the restaurants and bars on the 2-3 streets that run parallel.
Over the course of our four nights and three days here, this is what we did:
We spent a bit of time on the beach
It’s a nice beach with a great outlook over the neighbouring islands, but we’ve been to better. The beach is lined with sun beds and umbrellas that cost 35,000VND ($AU1.75) each and you can stay in the them for as long as you like. This is a good idea because it was very hot and there’s no point frying in the sun when you can sit under some shade. You can even buy food from the restaurants lining the beach and have it delivered to your sun bed, but in keeping with our style we bought from the few vendors patrolling the beach. We thought we’d go all out and buy a lobster, but this turned out to be a huge mistake as it was disgusting, there wasn’t much of it and, relatively speaking, it was pretty expensive (bartered down from 400,000VND to 250,000VND – $AU16 to $AU10).
Seeing Nha Trang in style
We hired a couple of rickshaw riders to pedal us around the city in the passenger baskets on the front. This was a great way to see Nha Trang in style and comfort without breaking the bank (100,000VND per hour, about $AU5). Our two guides took us to a few of the main sites, like the Long Son Pagoda, a Buddhist Temple with a huge Buddha statute 152 steps up a hill with great views of the city. Here some students of the temple, who told us they were all orphans, guided us halfway up to the Buddha statue, then tried to sell us 10 postcards for 400,000VND ($AU20). Even by our standards that’s some expensive postcards. Because we were told all funds go to the monastery and their education, we paid 200,000VND ($AU10) for the cards that we’ll probably never use. We’ve since learnt they are not students at the temple and just scam tourists with their sob story. That’s a lesson learnt for us, so don’t be fooled. We ventured around the hustle and bustle of the area near the train station, along the edge of the beach and back to our hotel which took about two hours. We highly recommend this to see as much of Nha Trang as possible away from the touristy areas.
Exploring the islands by boat
We spent a day on a tour boat exploring a few of the nearby islands. Apart from the late pickup 45 minutes after we were told the transfer bus would arrive, it was a really good day, well worth the 200,000VND ($AU10) per person cost. Apparently traffic on Sundays in Nha Trang is notoriously busy, at least that’s the excuse we were given for the late pickup. While the brochure said we’d visit four islands, we only stepped foot on two and swam off the coast of another. Our tour party was talked out of going to the final island where the aquarium is located by the head guide, claiming recent entry fee price rises, a lack of marine life to see and ongoing construction made the trip there not worthwhile. Of course after a damning report like that the group voted to go back early, which we were more than happy to do after a long day of swimming in the sun. But I think maybe the aquarium had stopped giving them a cut of any entrance fees paid by the tourists they provided, or some other disagreement meant they discouraged visitors going there. Or they had somewhere else to be and wanted to get back to shore a little earlier. Either way the two islands we did visit were nice and the swimming was pleasant, but the snorkelling they promised was terrible. They provided us with shoddy equipment and the three or four colourful fish that were there when we arrived didn’t stick around for long! One of the highlights of the trip was the lunch spread, served on the boat while we made our way from the first island to the next. Traditional Vietnamese food shared with the others on the boat was a great way to meet other travellers. Another highlight was the ‘boy band’ that entertained us straight after lunch. They set up a makeshift stage and the crew doubled as a rock band, with the lead guitarist particularly talented. The head guide was also lead singer and he went around the group asking where we were all from. He and the band then played a song from each country (Australian, French, German, Russian, English, Chinese and of course Vietnamese), sung in the mother tongue accompanied by a tourist from that country karaoke style. A couple of Aussie lads did us proud with their rendition of the Men At Work classic ‘Land Down Under’. It took quite some skill and talent from the lead singer/guide, and was very entertaining. Again, we would highly recommend you do a tour like this one.
Although Nha Trang lacked the Vietnamese soul of Ho Cho Minh City, the street food was still exceptional. However we must admit that we did ‘cheat’ one night and ate pizza in one of the local restaurants. A combination of being tired from a full day of exploring, the constant meals of rice and soup, and a need to eat something quickly led us to a pizza joint close by. It wasn’t great, but it did the trick.
Overall Nha Trang did what we wanted and provided us with a beach for a few days. If Vietnamese culture is what you’re after then you’re better off going somewhere else. If a few days of rest and relaxation on the beach is what you’re after, then this is the place for you.