Nha Trang was the first location I hit in Vietnam. When visiting this long, thin country of approximately 1,650 kilometers from north to south, most people start at either the bottom or the top. I started in the middle. That is pure me. Nha Trang seemed to be calling to me, as it’s a lively beach town with inexpensive accommodations. So off I went.
It was love at first sight.
The topography of Nha Trang was precisely how I have always envisioned Vietnam, with small brown mountains rising out of the ground around the periphery of the South China Sea. Its appearance made this the only location I landed in Vietnam where I would often just stop, look around and say to myself with awe I am in Vietnam. It was beautiful.
I stayed at the Tide Hotel, which is on the very far end of town several kilometers away from the Western shops and restaurants. As much as I like being around the locals, that isn’t why I stayed here. I chose this hotel because it was only $12 a night. The staff was extremely nice, and unlike other budget hotels, they cleaned the room thoroughly every day, very gracefully slipping at some point when I would slip out. They did not and are not compensating me in any way to write this. I just liked them. Unfortunately, their location is so out of the way it can be a little awkward because you need to take a bus (approximately 15 American cents one way) or a taxi (approximately 4 or 5 USD one way) into town. But directly in front of their hotel is a long and gorgeous beach, devoid of the hustlers who roam the sand begging for money on the popular end of town.
I also noticed for the first time a sight I saw in other locations in Vietnam – round boats! Apparently these vehicles function just fine, because I saw scads of them not only piled up on the shoreline every day, waiting for their owners to get in and paddle, but plenty of men at sea, guiding themselves easily to and from the shore.
Staying away from the western influences in any location in Asia ensures that you’ll be partaking at some point in authentic local food. I didn’t eat much Vietnamese food while in the country, selecting nachos and pizza instead, because I’d eaten so much Khmer food during my time in Cambodia. But every time I did try Vietnamese food, I enjoyed it.
My first Vietnamese meal. The green leafies were the first I’d seen in a long time.
With the heart of downtown Nha Trang so far away, I never walked all the way in, although a couple of times I did go partway. It was so hot I would have been too sweaty if I’d gone the full distance. Only walking halfway I was sopping enough. But the sights I saw along the route were worth the wet clothes.
Nha Trang was also my first introduction to the tall, thin, elevator-less buildings so popular in Vietnam.
In this little town there were a few times that I saw the oddest sight I have ever witnessed – people apparently getting roadside ear examinations. Seriously, the first such examination I saw was on the sidewalk of the very busy street that led from downtown to my hotel, as I was speeding by on a bus. The examiner was wearing a face mask (of course), a metal magnifying type device over his eye and was shining a very bright light into the examinee’s ear canal. Fortunately, I saw this spectacle again in a different area while I was on foot, so I was able to capture it with my camera.
The western district consists of many streets full of shops and restaurants. Unfortunately, like everywhere else in Vietnam, if you’re wanting to buy a swimsuit, shorts or pants, you are probably out of luck unless you are very, very tiny. Although these shops cater to Westerners, their sizes are strictly for Asians. I did manage, with difficulty, to find a pair of shorts which fit just great, though, so never say never. I also found a small gym located over a beauty salon, which was only 3 USD as opposed to the 10 USD which hotels in town were charging. Digging into the western part of town can sometimes be a good thing after all.
I’ll sum up my experience in Nha Trang by saying again how much I loved being in this classic Vietnamese town. If I hadn’t traveled to Nha Trang, I wouldn’t have experienced that intense I cannot believe I’m here feeling. And that feeling is one of the greatest rewards of travel.