I had been to Saigon four times, and would go back there again and again, despite its reputation for some travelers. (I did have a negative experience with Saigon–How My Favorite Country Betrayed Me–but I still have a lot of fondness for this city.)
I had also heard a lot about Hoi An and its gardens and longed to get there, as well as the sand dunes of Mui Ne.
I had never considered going to Nha Trang, though, not only because of the things I read about it, but because its primarily selling point — its beaches — is aplenty here in the Philippines. I thought before — why would I go to Nha Trang when there are so many lovely beaches in the Philippines?
However, the last time I was in Vietnam (December 2012), a friend persuaded me to go. I’m glad I did; I found this small coastal town charming and beautiful enough.
We booked the trip from Saigon to Nha Trang via The Sinh Tourist along De Tham. It was a sleeper bus, because they said the trip would take 10 hours. I looked up the distance between the two cities: it was only around 300 kilometers! Why would it take 10 hours?
When we were on the way, I realized why: the bus ran really really slowly, around 40 km per hour. I didn’t know if it was because there were no streetlights on the highway or because the driver often stopped to rest and drink something, but I thought that such distance would only take around 3-4 hours of travel time in the Philippines.
In any case, when we arrived in the morning, we immediately went to the beach after dumping our stuff in the hotel. The white sand was really fine and clean, but when I saw the huge waves, I decided to nap on the beach instead while my friend had the time of his life in the warm waters.
When I woke up, we walked the whole length of the coast. We were there seemingly at the right season; there were not so many tourists and the weather was wonderful. We had seen couples and solo travelers enjoying the sun and the sand, and thankfully none of the huge groups we expected to see.
What I found weird, though, was all the sculptures scattered along the length of the boulevard. Is it their concept of art? They had a lot of topiary too, and although I’m all for living sculptures, I didn’t like the geometric shapes the leaves were forced into.
In any case, the next day, we took advantage of the really cheap snorkeling tours. For only US$7, you get to go island hopping, snorkeling, and have free lunch, too. What more can you ask for?
Well, it seemed that aside from everything else, you get free live entertainment onboard as well. The singers (who doubled as the tour guides, boat men, and captain) banged on the improvised drums and caterwauled to their heart’s content, much to the Chinese tourists’ enjoyment.
The best thing we did in Nha Trang was to go biking. It was my first time to use a bike in years, and doing so in major streets, with cars and motorbikes zipping towards and behind me, added quite a few years to my life at first. When I got used to it, though, I found it quite wonderful; so much so that I vowed to buy a bicycle once I return to the Philippines (nope, I haven’t done so yet!).
One note about eating in Nha Trang: when the server brings you your order, make sure that it’s really yours. We ate at this nice restaurant where we nicknamed the waitresses “confused ladies” because they kept on bringing us the wrong order. Based on what I read in other blogs, it seems to be a common thing there, too!
Did I enjoy my time in Nha Trang? Yes, I did. I wouldn’t go back there though. The whole town is expanding rapidly, and especially in the tourist areas, it gives off a feeling of artificiality. Certainly, there are other things to do there, and other places to see (like the Long Son Pagoda), but for me, once is enough. I would rather spend my time in Saigon, or go further north where perhaps I can find the “real” Vietnam.
How about you? Have you been to Nha Trang? How did you find it?