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Known as Vietnam’s beach resort metropolis, I was expecting to find the Vietnamese version of Phuket when my overnight train rolled in from the countryside. While I was partially correct, Nha Trang is actually far more laid back than it’s expat-fueled Thai counterpart.
Set on expansive Nha Trang Bay, the beach was far wider and nicer than I had anticipated, and the amount of beachfront development wasn’t completely overwhelming. Sure, there are uber-luxury resorts ($500+/night) and the world’s longest cablecar extending over the Bay to an offshore island, but there are still stretches of sand that are moderately undeveloped and devoid of the lawnchair and jet ski phenomena that litters most Southeast Asian beaches. While the oceanfront resorts are understandably more expensive, a two block walk back from the beach drops the prices from a couple hundred dollars to about ten bucks a night. Definitely worth the walk. I spent three days here shacked up at My Long guesthouse, a clean establishment run by a very friendly local woman who throws in some killer omelets and coffee each morning free of charge.
With the downtown area playing host to the usual collection of simple cafes, standard souvenir shops, and Western style restaurants, the real action in Nha Trang (aside from the beach), lies in all of the islands just offshore. Accessible by a short boat ride (or again, the world’s longest cable car!), spots such as Bamboo Island provide a wide range of accommodation and lazy beaches meant for strolling in the sun. There are even incredibly curious looking “glass bottom boats”, which are little more than handwoven tea-cups with plastic bottoms that cater to the aquatically challenged.
Thanks, but if I’m going to go out on the water, I’d rather be under it with a tank on my back (Dive Vietnam). Taking advantage of the absurdly cheap price for scuba diving, a group of 4 of us was able to charter a private dive boat for two dives, with breakfast and lunch included, for a whopping $35/each. The price aside, we lucked out in that conditions during the winter months are supposed to be pretty poor for visibility, but we managed a small window of clean conditions that allowed for fantastic diving. My favorite part about the entire experience as that–in true Southeast Asian fashion–we were not required to sign any paperwork, or even show a certification card, wholly accepting personal responsibility for whatever may happen. God I love Asia. The highlight probably came when we were winding our way through tight sea caves about 60 ft. down, eating raw mollusks underwater that the divemaster had smashed open with another rock. For anyone who doesn’t dive, this is definitely not an experience you would find diving in “Westernized (read: litigious) nations”. At the bountiful meal of traditional Vietnamese fare back at the shop afterwards, the dive instructor and owner conversed with us about the numerous differences and struggles between the north and south Vietnamese people. He lambasted the political Socialaist system in place, spelling out in detail how the military extorts bribes from the people and basic civil liberties are few and far between. It was a difficult, eye-opening conversation into the darker side of Communism.
While the beaches are beautiful, the islands alluring, and the activities aplenty, Nha Trang is not a place for people on a tight budget. Prices on seemingly everything, especially activities and taxis, are wildly inflated to prices that resemble those of a true beach resort complex, as opposed to simply a city by the sand. Overall opinion: A place where you can spend an enjoyable couple of days, but I wouldn’t want to simply get stuck in this southern beach haven.