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I promised myself I'd never return to Nha Trang, but I'm happy I didn't keep my word

Wednesday, May 10, 2023, 11:20 GMT+7
I promised myself I'd never return to Nha Trang, but I'm happy I didn't keep my word
The sun sets in Nha Trang City, located in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

Nha Trang – For some expats, it is the forgotten city in the south-central region of Vietnam that is only there for the benefit of fly-in fly-out tourists from places like South Korea, China, and Russia. But post pandemic, Nha Trang has transformed into a fun, relaxing, and memorable place to visit in Vietnam for locals and expats alike. 

In 2014, I took a short vacation to Nha Trang and promised myself I would never return. However, the memories faded and I used the holiday period in April/May to once again venture into the heart of this small city on the coast some 400km from Ho Chi Minh City. 

I had a week in Nha Trang to explore and learn and I found a new place full of opportunities for everyone. It is a tale of two cities with the tourist area stretching along the beach and consuming around four blocks back from the long beautiful shore, and stretching back into the countryside is the local city full of culture and friendly people. 

People hang out by the sea in Nha Trang City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

People hang out by the sea in Nha Trang City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

Getting to Nha Trang was part of the fun of the holiday. Whilst there are planes and buses going directly to the city, for me, the train is by far the most enjoyable. The trip is around eight hours and is usually overnight. You leave Ho Chi Minh City after dark and arrive early in the morning in Nha Trang, and there are similar services from the north but they are longer. The train has tickets for seats, six-bed sleeper cabins, and four-bed sleeper cabins. The six-bed cabins are a little cramped but the four-bed cabins are great and are comfortable for even the taller expats who often struggle with things like those sleeper buses. 

Cam Ranh, just a short drive south of the city, has an international airport. It now accepts direct international flights from South Korea, China, Russia and a host of other Asian and international countries. This makes it a great short vacation location for tourists wishing to have a long weekend or short vacation because they do not need to travel via the major ports to get to the region. This is evidenced by the number of foreign tourists on the street, especially after dark. 

I arrived in Nha Trang at 9:00 am and felt pretty refreshed after getting a few hours of sleep on the train. I headed straight to a cafe and got acclimatised with a coffee and banh mi. And it was at this point that I first experienced the friendliness of the local people. As long as you speak a little Vietnamese, they will talk to you like any other person and not treat you like an alien. They are super friendly and relaxed. 

Umbrellas and chairs are rented along a beach in Nha Trang City. Photo:  Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

Umbrellas and chairs are rented along a beach in Nha Trang City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

The secret to Nha Trang is transport. It is great to stay in a nice hotel close to the beach but you must escape the tourist area and experience the countryside and local town. Motorbikes and bicycles are available all over the place at a reasonable price. Cyclo drivers have entered the 21st century with many of them now having electric vehicles to make getting around faster and easier, plus taxis and hire apps are all reasonably priced. 

Along the coastline are a range of attractions that you can visit. I took a motorbike and spent the day riding to the north of the city along the coast, then I headed inland to the west of the city to experience some local cafes and food. The countryside is so close to the city so you don’t need to go a long way to find yourself in the middle of nowhere. There is a beautiful view of the mountains to the west.

Buildings along the beach in Nha Trang City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

Buildings along the beach in Nha Trang City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

At the top end of tourism in Nha Trang is Vinpearl Island. This attraction is at another level and the price of admission, whilst high, is actually great value for what you get. Make sure you arrive as early as you can in the morning and stay there until after sunset. The rides, waterpark, shows, and attractions will keep you busy all day. My ten-hour day there was full of fun and I only got to see about 70 percent of the park. It was great value and a great experience. One special note is to jump on the ferris wheel around sunset. You will not be disappointed with the amazing view of Nha Trang from high on the mountain as the sun sets to the west.

The week seemed to go so fast and there was so much that I didn’t experience. Other activities you can try in this region include day tours, scuba diving, Sup paddling, snorkelling, parasailing, jet skiing, and island tours. For the seniors there are also more sedate experiences like market tours, cooking classes, and culture tours. 

Local food is also a great part of the local attraction. Seafood is the specialty of the region and there are a number of higher priced restaurants in the tourist area. A secret is to find good value seafood restaurants outside the tourist area. They will sell the same seafood but at up to half the price of the restaurants you find along the beach. And the experience of eating with locals is often a value added to enjoying your time on holidays in this region. 

Seasoned dried squids are sold at a market in Nha Trang City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

Seasoned dried squids are sold at a market in Nha Trang City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

The new and modern Nha Trang is much safer and easier to get around but there are a few things you need to be aware of so you don’t lose your money. Firstly, massage shops in the tourist area can be rather expensive, so be careful when choosing a massage shop. Research and find businesses that have a reputation for treating customers fairly and honestly. 

Cyclo drivers have no system of payment and they can sometimes quote rather high prices for short trips. The best thing to do is get an idea of the price of transport on an app or in a taxi and use it as a guide. None of my trips around the tourist area exceeded VND50,000 (US$2.13) but there were a couple of occasions where I wanted to go just 1km and I was asked to pay VND60,000 ($2.56), which I refused. 

Restaurants in the high tourist area, especially seafood restaurants, will have spruikers outside trying to get you to stop your motorbike or car, or they will stop you from walking down the sidewalk and try to get you into the restaurant. These restaurants are usually higher priced and are rarely used by local people because they are not good value. Avoid restaurants that have young men outside being aggressive and trying to get you to stop.

A fishing boat is on the water in Nha Trang City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

A fishing boat on the water in Nha Trang City. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

After my forgettable experience of visiting Nha Trang in 2014, my feeling and love for this city has totally changed. It is a fun place to get to, to stay, and to experience. There are an unbelievable number of experiences to enjoy in the water and on land and your experience is only limited by your imagination and planning. Just remember that Nha Trang is more than the beach and tourist area and you will have more fun than you could ever imagine. After a week in this beautiful place, I am pretty sure I will be back to experience the many things I didn’t get the chance to try this holiday. 

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Ray Kuschert

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