Nha Trang is a large coastal city in southern Vietnam which for rather inexplicable reason attracts both domestic and foreign tourist with its city beaches. Nha Trang’s major historical site are impressive tower temples of the Cham civilisation while the nearby spas with mud baths make for a more self-indulgent alternative.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF NHA TRANG
The route from Da Lat to Nha Trang was quite scenic as it took us exactly across the Central Highlands. Luckily for us, it turned out that only Da Lat was in the cold and nasty weather zone. Nha Trang was sunny and very hot.
I won’t lie: I found Nha Trang too big and too busy to enjoy it. We got off the bus in the city centre and started roaming around, searching for a reasonably priced room. We checked mostly guesthouses located in the back alleys which were less likely to be expensive. However, the prices were still ridiculously high, especially that most of the rooms weren’t appealing at all.
We had a look at Agoda and found a cheaper room miles away, at the northern end of the city. It took us quite a while until eventually we found a bus which took us right where we wanted. We crossed the bridge on Cai river, passed by Cham temples and got off near a very underwhelming Bai Duong beach.
All along, there were just rows and rows of huge high-rise hotels and the beach as well as the sea looked rather dirty. The beach was empty, apart from a few old Russians. We soon understood that the entire city was taken over by Russians. There were so many of them that I (with my Slavic look and accent) was automatically taken for a Russian by one hotel receptionist.
We checked a couple of hotels on our way but they were all overpriced and simply terrible. Finally, we reached the chosen hotel. We were greeted by a very grumpy teenager and a stone-faced woman who didn’t speak a word of English. The room was small, old and still more expensive than any of the rooms we had chosen till then but at least it had a window. We too tired to search for a better alternative so we took it, completely resigned and deflated.
THE GREATEST SINGLE RIP OFF OF THE ENTIRE VIETNAM TOUR
The next task was finding something to eat as we were famished by that point. We made a mistake of ignoring the restaurants which looked pricey and stopping at the first encountered street stall. I ordered a morning glory (kind of leafy green) dish within a reasonable price only to discover that a tofu dish was available as well. I actually wanted to swap one dish for the other but wasn’t sure if I was understood due to the language barrier. Sayak ordered a chicken meal which didn’t have a price in the menu. It was a grave mistake.
We were served a large plate of tofu, morning glory and a few pieces of -as Sayak recalled- disgusting chicken. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the bill: extortionist price of 200 000 dong or £6 (for eating at the roadside on a mini plastic stool!). It was by far our most expensive meal in Vietnam and also definitely the worst one. We were fuming but learned our lesson: always check the price before ordering.
CHAM TOWERS – A WORKING HINDU TEMPLE IN THE MIDDLE OF VIETNAM
After the meal, we decided to walk all the way to the Po Nagar tower temples. It wasn’t a nice walk as it was leading all along a busy main road. The walk proved to be very useful since we found a local, very cheap laundry and we were in dire need of washing our clothes.
The Po Nagar towers were perched on top of a hillock surrounded with a small park. They were overlooking a river entering the sea. The whole site was swarming with tourists. We couldn’t find almost any information about the monuments- a miniature museum contained only a few artifacts and some photos.
The brick towers were adorned with statues of Hindu gods but the small, dark interior of the towers featured decorations reminding me more of East than South Asia.
The most fascinating thing about that place was that it was still a working temple. There were Vietnamese Hindu devotees coming to pray there. I really pitied them for performing the rituals in such a busy and noisy environment. I was totally engrossed in their rituals which reminded me more of Buddhism than Hinduism.
We also watched for a while a free ‘cultural show’ in front of the towers, featuring lady dancers and an ensemble playing traditional instruments. That show was far from captivating, though.
We preferred to watch the views and enjoy the greenery. As it was getting late, the tourists were leaving in throngs, finally giving us much needed space to enjoy the ancient edifices undisturbed and to take the photos.
A LONG WALK ALONG THE COAST
We decided to walk back to our hotel along the sea even though it meant taking a slightly longer route. At first, we did manage to go along the seaside but then the access to the coast was closed, boarded off. It forced us to walk for quite a long while along a very busy highway in gathering darkness.
Eventually, we could access the coastline again, just to come across one of the most disgusting stretches of sand I had seen in my life. It was also the dirtiest place I’d seen in the whole Vietnam. The entire area was littered and scattered with larger pieces of junk. There was an island with a temple in a short distance which presumably could be accessed by small boats during the daytime. We found it hard to understand the couples which chose that place as a ‘romantic’ spot.
Another long walk along the busy highway took us to the Bai Duong beach which we had already seen in the morning. There was a large group of people meditating straight on the sand and lots of young locals loitering at the promenade, just watching the sea. The sea appeared pretty gross to me as there was a small (not particularly fresh smelling) river entering the sea at one end of the beach.
All in all, we were not impressed and decided to move on as soon as possible.