I love the beach, but I must confess that I am also a true blue city girl. So while the serene sound of the waves can soothe one’s soul, I sometimes seek comfort in the noise of a bustling city.
After my editor told me about the trip to Nha Trang – thanks to AirAsia’s inaugural flight of its 54th unique route to this coastal city – a search on Google showed that it was the perfect answer to both my love for beaches and my city-girl tendencies.
Following a pleasant flight in mid-September, I landed at the Cam Ranh International Airport.
Nha Trang is located on the south-central Vietnamese coast, and is the capital of Khanh Hoa Province.
After an hour’s drive into the city centre, the view that greeted me gave me an immediate sense of comfort which lifted my mood. The stretch of beach – with an array of dining and accommodation options fronting it – made this girl squeal inwardly with happiness!
Tran Phu beach is a beautiful 6km stretch of golden sand. This public beach is bustling with beach-goers who start swimming as early as 5.30am. At that hour, this city is already alive with the blaring of horns from vehicles.
The cool morning breeze, lukewarm sea, and the magnificent sunrise make this stretch of shoreline a good option for beach lovers. Water sports are not allowed here, so it is safe to swim. It also boasts a promenade with exercise equipment for health enthusiasts.
I was told that Nha Trang is also known for its diving and snorkelling so, if the busy city beach isn’t your cup of tea, then you can head north or south where the beaches are quieter and the drive comes with picturesque stops along the way.
But the beach is not the only plus point here. Nha Trang brims with culture; it is a place where the old meets the new, and heritage blends with modern city life.
The Po Nagar Cham Towers is a temple built in honour of Yang Ino Po Nagar, the goddess of the Dua Liu clan, which ruled the southern part of the Cham kingdom .
There are four towers from the original eight that were built between the 7th and the 12th centuries. They are located on a hill overlooking the fishing villages of Nha Trang. While the temple is used for worship by Cham, Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists, it also has some Hindu influence. One of the towers is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and has a linga inside the main chamber. In the other towers, you can see designs of Lord Shiva in his dance form with Shakthi, his wife.
From the temple, you can see the Cau Xom Bong bridge, which was built by the French. Legend has it that the Americans dropped bombs on the bridge but failed to destroy it. The locals believe that the bridge, which serves as a vital connection for the people, was protected by the goddess.
One place that left me breathless was Long Son Pagoda. Sitting atop a mountain crest is a large white Buddha statue. After climbing 152 steps, I thought I had reached nirvana because of the view that took my breath away. And the sunny blue sky made me feel calm and at peace.
Nha Trang is also famous for its mud baths; it is a must-do for visitors. It is said that the mud in this region is rich in natural minerals.
I went to the 100 Egg Mud Bath theme park, set in the mountains, which had quirky egg-shaped bath tubs. Soaking in the mineral-laden mud was a unique experience and, after I was done, my skin felt smooth and revitalised. Those who plan to experience this should go there in the morning as it can get rather crowded in the afternoon.
I love exploring new places, so I was delighted when our host Visit Nha Trang took us on a street food tour. The seafood in this coastal city is, of course, absolutely fresh and abundant; you can even find lobsters being grilled and sold on the sidewalks!
During the street food tour, I tried some of the local delicacies such as the Banh Trang Tron (a rice paper salad), Banh Xeo (crispy pancake with seafood and crunchy leafy vegetables), a Vietnamese take on pizza known as Banh Trang Nuong made from barbecued rice paper with toppings, and Banh Can or mini pancakes made from rice flour with quail or chicken egg and seafood or meat. Almost everything here is flavoured with fish sauce, which gives food an extra kick.
Walking on the main roads in Nha Trang was an “adventure” in itself. Some motorists did not stop for pedestrians so it felt like they were coming right at you with a vengeance. All I thought was “I don’t want to mati katak (become roadkill) in the thick of traffic!” But my local tour guide Angella was an excellent “shield” as we crossed the roads.
Nha Trang is also known for its nightlife. We went to Qui Cuisine Mixology which provides great cocktails paired with Asian-fusion tapas, a concept that is relatively new in Vietnam. Also worth visiting is Skylight Nha Trang, located on the 43rd floor of the Havana Hotel overlooking Nha Trang Bay. It has a breathtaking view which should please any shutterbug.
This city girl really enjoyed everything Nha Trang had to offer – from its serene beaches to the city’s unique mix of history, culture and night life.