Nha Trang is at the center of all the beach hype about Vietnam. It has been labeled (By its own Government) as 'The Destination for the New Millennium'.
I'd also heard that it was the Beach of all Beaches by both Vietnamese and other tourists. I quickly decided that it would be a destination I couldn't miss.
I went up there for the first time in 2005.
I was working and living in Ho Chi Minh City at the time and headed up to Nha Trang for Christmas and New Year.
I took the bus up there the first time because I wanted a holiday and wanted to make the promised 10 hour trip as relaxing as possible.
Any chance for me to escape the pollution and noise of Ho Chi Minh City is welcomed.
The bus to Nha Nrang can be booked at any hotel or travel Agency. I used Happy Tours on Bo Vien Street in the Pham Ngu Lao Area of Ho Chi Minh City.
The ticket is usually about $12USD one way to Nha Trang but you have to shop around for the best deal.
The bus departs daily at 8am from any hotel in the Pham Ngu Lao Area. The bus circles the block, stopping at each hotel and travel agent who contacted them and reserved seats. Sometimes you don't get out of town and properly on the road until 9am.
It turned out to be a 14 hour trek by bus from Ho Chi Minh City. It was near 11pm when we arrived in this city of 300,000 people and a full 6 miles of splendid white sandy beach.
Nha Trang is 1287 km South of Hanoi, 624 km South of Hue and 442 km from Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon). The Reunification Railway crosses the city and stops at Nha Trang Railway Station, if you want to get there by train.
That trip was at the end of December. The rainy season starts at the end of October and lasts until early January so we were there at the tail end of the rainy season. It only rained a few times while we were there but the seas were still a bit rough after the rainy season.
I was looking forward to the next day. With an estimated 250 days of sunshine a year and an average temperature of 26 degrees Celsius, I was expecting a warm sunny day.
The bus drove us to a hotel they claimed we had to stay in. They took our bags hurriedly into the hotel and waited for us to get off the bus. This Hotel was amongst houses, pot-holed roads and dirty concrete.
I wanted to get closer to the beach so I picked up our bags and began walking out. A stern voice warned me that all the other hotels were fully booked or closed.
I think the name of that hotel was Forceddownmythroat Guesthouse.
I am a stubborn jerk though and I had only agreed to take the bus up to Nha Trang, not stay in their hotel.
I was not angry about it and said thank you to the guy who was now adamant that we stay.
He looked at me with threatening eyes and seemed to take the occasion way to seriously.
But they just wanted the business badly and they knew their location was a handicap. I wanted to be near the beach so we couldn't reach a deal and we were off.
It was four blocks away. The road met with the beach front drive of Tran Phu Street. Seeing the beach for the first time with the whitewash of the incoming waves crashing against the shoreline was mesmerizing.
I got a burst of fresh sea-air and was happy that I had left that other hotel behind.
And luck was on my side. Across the street behind me was a hotel. To my surprise it was open, they had rooms and it was cheaper than the other hotel the bus company had recommended. Or the bus company had been paid by.
The hotel was right on Tran Phu street, just a road-width away from the beach. The room was air-conditioned, had a T.V. and a nice bathroom. Best of all, I had a Balcony that looked out onto the beaches of Nha Trang. I must of sat there for a full hour before settling in.
The air was so fresh and the night so quiet that it invigorated me after the last 6 months in polluted Saigon.
I paid $5USD a night for that hotel room.
The next morning I woke early. I went out without eating any breakfast. I was determined to find to find a hut somewhere along the beach to stay.
I started across the street from my hotel and went Southward. The beach was nice and the sand soft and, in the shade, cool between my toes.
But there was no beach huts anywhere.
I expected to find huts or cabins or a small hotel right on the beach. They were so common in Thailand and Cambodia that I didn't think for a moment that Nha Trang Beach would offer any less.
I had come to love waking in the morning to the sound of the surf coming in.
I later found out that no beach huts are permitted on the actual beach.
Loads of Accommodation sits across the road from the beach but none is actually on the Beach.
I walked as far as the Sailor's Club', which is probably the best restaurant in Nha Trang simply because you can actually sit very near the beach and have a cold beer.
I also discovered that if you're looking for a secluded beach, you won't find it in Nha Trang. But if you want to enjoy a day trip out to the Islands in Nha Trang Bay, where you can snorkel and swim, then Nha Trang fits the bill.
After seeing the beaches in Thailand and Cambodia, Nha Trang lags far behind them. The water is nice but the drop off into the deep water is sudden. Very few people swim there but hundreds walk the beach and frown at anyone wearing a Bikini. (Not that I wore one but my wife did).
A Boat Ride Around the Islands?
Lin and I booked a full day boat trip around the islands. It was about $14USD each but it included full meals for the day as well as spirits on a floating bar and promises of swimming in the most beautiful water in the world.
We were up early the next morning. The mini van picked us up outside our hotel and drove us to the dock. The boat was an old fishing boat made from uneven plies of wood and a funny blue colored paint that coating most of the hull.
I was really excited about the coming day. The boat seemed fine but I kept comparing the whole trip to those I had taken in Thailand. Shouldn't have done that.
First we chugged out to Hon Tre Island and the captain stopped the boat. There were about 14 people on board and we all looked at each other when the engines stopped.
The crew started saying "Now you swim", over and over. I swear that most of us were thinking the same thing. Here? It wasn't an awful place but the water was murky and the beach was rocky. It just wasn't the kind of place that enticed you into the waters.
By the time I was in the water it was great fun. We dove off the roof of the boat and each time someone had a more spectacular dive to perform. I swam from the boat to the beach but couldn't stand. The rocks were too jagged and I soon turned back to the boat, my feet cut up from the rocks.
Even though most of us got in the spirit and enjoyed ourselves, all agreed that it was not a special place and hoped the next island was better.
It wasn't far to Hon Yen island where we anchored offshore again. Pots and pans began to clang in the back of the boat. We were all hungry and knew something was being cooked up.
The Brochure Sounded Enticing
I remember the photos and the descriptions of the fresh seafood and 'Floating Bar' where appetizers would be served. I thought that wold be quite cool; being able to swim out to the bar and lounge on a 'Floating Bar'.
Well. The guy brought out an old truck tire inner tube with a round plank of wood on one side. He threw it into the water, dove in and climbed aboard the plywood top of the floating inner-tube / Bar. He had 3 shot glasses with him and a big tub of home made rice wine.
It wasn't what anyone expected but by now Lin and I were just amused by it all and giddy with the views of the islands from the boat. We swam out to the 'floating bar' and took a shot of the poison each. It was enough for us but we kept on swimming around until exhausted.
When we got back onto the boat, the food was all laid out on small plastic plates of varying colors. I looked at each plate and tried a taste of each. Most was sliced fruit and vegetables but there was also some meat and baguettes to put it in.
Most of the food didn't get eaten and when the crew broke into song it was funny. They tried their best but they could not sing. It was fun to watch them but painful also.
Not far off the coast of Nha Trang is Bamboo Island. It is owned and operated by the Sofitel Vinpearl Group of hotels. There is now a chair-lift linking the mainland to the five-star resort and theme park on Bamboo Island.
We docked on Bamboo Island and walked along the peer. There is an entrance gate and a $1USD entry fee. We laughed about the entrance fee because it just seemed to never end;, the hand to pocket to hand goes the money.
Everyone was turning to their left as they came out of the entrance gate. But it was clear to us that the best looking beach was off to the right. So, we went right.
We strolled across the manicured grass towards the beach. There were sun-chairs and umbrellas and a little bar. We were quite excited and happy to have paid the dollar entrance fee. I put my arm around Lin and we picked out the chairs we were going to sit in.
We're Not Worthy
A loud alarm bell sounded just then. We heard voices screaming in panic. when we turned around we saw the 5 approaching security guards, rushing towards us in an unsettling manner. One of them pointed his Billy-club at us and said:
"This is private property. Go back the way you came!" He yelled in authority. Lin and I were taken back by the zeal of his reaction. We were not aware of doing anything wrong.
"No No," I said. "We paid the entrance fee." I took out the two tickets from my pocket but nobody was impressed. They escorted us off the beach and out of the manicured grounds.
The whole right side of the island is cut off to anyone but guests of the hotel. Whatever, we just walked away and sat on another beach on the left side of the island. It was O.K. and that summed up our trip. It was eventful and I got to break a few rules so I had a good day.
There was one more stop. We anchored in the bay of another where we paid a small amount for a ride around in one of those boats that looked like upturned buckets.
It felt very unstable but was the best part of the trip. Here's a picture of Lin with some of the boats in the background.
We headed back to our hotel, ordered a lot of food and ate as soon as we could. The food at the hotel was great. We slept a long time before getting up in the morning.
Back to Ho Chi Minh City
We took the train back to Ho Chi Minh City. It was a wonderful trip through the Vietnamese country-side throughout the night and early morning. We got sleeper beds but slept lightly.
There is also a new, deluxe privately-run train that links Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang. It has three classes, 5-star club, deluxe and standard. Some cars are double-deck for incredible views.
The '5 Star Express' also has a dining car and special deluxe departure lounges which are available at The Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang Train Stations.
Question: I heard the Scuba Diving in Nha Trang is awesome. Is it worth the effort?
Answer: Everyone I spoke with said the diving was good but not great. The best aspect is that you can take a PADI certified diving course that takes 3 days to get the Open Water Ticket at $210 USD.
People who took the course raved about the solid instruction, especially during the instructor assisted open water dives near the end.
Apparently the big complaint from divers is the lack of sea life and the visibility of the water. If you already have a Certified Open Water Diving Ticket then it's only $20USD a day including equipment and a boat per person. (Groups Only).
There are about 6 or 7 diving shops competing for your business and offering their own 'Secret' spots.
Question: Is there any really great spots for nightlife?
Answer: Some. The Sailing Club is right on the beach and is a very romantic place to take a friend while you choose from Indian, Chinese, Italian or Vietnamese food. Some of the tables are on the balcony facing the surf.
But it is not a place to hang out and there is no dance floor. Mostly couples and small groups of friends hang out there.
I also know of a bar names "Why Not?" It looks a lot like the bars back home with a few pool tables, darts and Foster's Beer on tap. I enjoyed it there but the nightlife is nothing like it is in Thailand or Cambodia. It is very conservative and most places shut by 12am.
I went to a bar in one of the hotels for New Years Ever December 31st and they charged us $40USD to get in and then closed at 12:15AM.