So far our trip in Vietnam has been full of good surprises. But the best of them has to be Nha Trang. We actually only planned to pass through the seaside town because it was a stop over on our open bus ticket from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. We thought we’d spend two days there to recover from the 11 hour bus ride and prepare us for the next one (traffic moves excruciatingly slow in Vietnam).
However, we ended up extending our stay in Nha Trang to five whole days just because we loved the relaxed sea-side vibe and sheer holiday feel the little town oozes.
We arrived at 6am just as the sun rose over the beautiful white sanded beach, giving us a welcome show to remember. We jumped off the bus and went straight to the water to wait for our hotel check in time.
The heat of the day begins early in Vietnam and there were already quite a few locals on the beach swimming, running or peacefully practicing Tai Chi before heading to work or school.
As the sun rose further tourists (mainly Russians and Chinese) and local sellers started to appear on the sands, interacting together with wild hand gestures and miming in order to agree on a prices for whatever was swapping hands.
The beach itself is the heart of Nha Trang, a massive crescent of white sand meeting the calm blue ocean with kite and windsurfers taking advantage of the off-shore winds. From the shoreline the town grows inland starting with high-rise hotels and fancy restaurants and slowly becoming more authentic, grubby and higgledy-piggledy the further you go.
When it came time for us to check in at our hotel, we started the short walk inland and passed some rather interesting sights on the way. Live seafood, exotic fruits and street food carts littered the roadside along with something else that caught our attention.
Crocodile isn’t the strangest food that exists in Asia, but we were surprised when we saw this one sizzling away on a rotisserie at a restaurant. Afterwards we learnt that crocodile is actually a local delicacy prepared in many ways. The skins are also used to create croc leather accessories that you can buy in many store fronts in Nha Trang.
And in case you were wondering, yes.. we tried it! The taste? Anyone else who has tried croc meat will be able to agree it tastes a lot like chicken… no joke!
Apart from crocodile, Nha Trang is famous for its super fresh seafood buffets where you’ll pay around 220,000 dong (US $10) for all you can eat delishious-ness.
We spent our evening exploring the back streets of the town and stopping to taste a variety of local dishes along the way. The sweet rice pictured above was Michaela’s favourite – sticky rice cooked with taro (a type of purple sweet potato/yam) and then topped with a mixture of salty and sweet crushed peanuts.
The next morning we woke up to a brilliant sunny day and decided to take the drone for a flight over the beach. We headed further south from the town centre and came across a part of the beach that was more isolated, obviously catering more for wealthy tourists.
The beach is lined with private massage cabins, thatched shade umbrellas and fancy villa accommodation. For those unable to afford the hefty price tag to stay in one of these hotels (US $ 500 and up a night), a few pricier bars and restaurants offer similar ammenities for their customers during the day. The Louisiane Brewhouse tantalises you in with a simple pool thats free to use once you purchase a beer or plate of food.
If you’re looking for something even more luxurious the Spot Bar has private VIP sun lounges with WIFI that overlook their turquoise lagoon pool. Pay 100,000 dong per person (just under US $5) and its yours for the day. Now you’re on holiday!
Although we enjoyed walking past all this opulence, we decided to save our combined 200,000 dong for something a little more adventurous (read further down).
Instead we relaxed on a shady lounge just off the beach and enjoyed a Vietnamese iced coffee while watching the kite-surfers in action. Vietnamese coffee is quite an experience in itself – at three times the strength of ‘western’ coffee and with the addition of a shot of condensed milk it certainly packs a punch and energises you for the day!
After watching the local traffic conditions over the past few days and debating whether we should hire a scooter to explore further afield, we finally built up the courage and rented one the next day!
You’d understand our hesitation in driving in Vietnam if you saw how many scooters, electric bikes, trucks and buses drive together on the tiny roads and how they all practice death-defying stunts as they come to intersections.
Our plan was to drive the scooter around 26kms north towards a 3 tier waterfall called Ba Ho.
Once we left the hustle and bustle of Nha Trang we were super surprised with the quality of the roads and the smaller amount of traffic using them. We took the scenic coast road most of the way and were rewarded with a stunning vista to the calm ocean with a background of hazy blue mountains.
The majority of the time we were almost alone on the road! On the way we saw the real Vietnam – local suburbs where houses are crumbling and inhabitants laze on tiny chairs sipping tea, a group of boys playing soccer in a rice field and a fishing village where ladies mended nets and men cleaned their brightly coloured vessels in the hot sun.
We took a smaller, less maintained road to the left in order to get to the waterfalls and finally arrived – paying 25,000 dong each to enter.
After visiting the famous waterfalls of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the Kimberley region in Australia we weren’t very impressed with Ba Ho in itself. Big slabs of boulders filled the bottom of a tropical valley, pooling grey-green water in places. Not the most beautiful waterfall we’ve ever seen (but perhaps its more impressive just after the rainy season).
The 2km return track to get there, however, was definitely a nice walk. We were able to explore the tropical valley ourselves and even saw a green tree snake along the way. We passed a group of locals sitting under an overhanging rock selling refreshments to tourists and later took shelter with them as the afternoon rains pounded down around us. We noticed they had a couple of dead chickens in a string bag for company (dinner that night?).
Our last days were spent swimming, relaxing in shady cafes, doing some volunteer work at a local restaurant and tasting more local street food. We really enjoyed the whole experience and would definitely go back again if we had the chance. Other things to do int he area include bathing in mud baths, visiting the local temple and going to Vin Pearl – a themed water park on a nearby island.
- Hiring an umbrella and beach chair: between 30,000 and 100,000 dong (US $1.20 – $4.80)
- 2 litre water bottle: 10,000 dong (US $0.50)
- Vietnamese iced coffee: 12,000 – 30,000 dongs (US $0.50 – $1.20)
- Baguette filled with meat and herbs (Bahn Mí): 15,000 – 30,000 dongs (US $0.75 – $1.20)
- Meal: 30,000 (street food), 60,000 (simple), 120,000 (good quality) e 180,000+ (luxury) [US $1.20 – $8.00]
- Ticket to the cinema: 60,000 dong (just under US $3.00)
- Scooter hire for one day: 70,000 dong (US $3.50)
- Night at a simple hotel with air-con, TV and wifi: 290,000 dong (US $13.00)
Where to stay?
We stayed at the Souvenir Nha Trang Hotel and really like it. The hotel is simple but clean and has been recently renovated. We were treated really well and had our laundry done for 30,000 dong (US $1.20) p/kg.
If you’re thinking of visiting Vietnam we highly recommend adding Nha Trang on the list of destinations you stay. From luxury beach side living to exploring a more authentic Vietnam, incredible food and perfect weather Nha Trang has it all.