Big Question Marks

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nha Trang in a Nutshell

It's crazy how easy it was to spend an entire week in the beachside city of Nha Trang (and how happy we continue to be that our visa extensions allow for this kind of travel). When we left this past Tuesday, we had finally felt we'd seen and experienced enough of the city to feel OK with leaving-- but it wouldn't have been that hard to lose a month there.

Beach culture in Vietnam is altogether different than in Australia (well, duh!). In fact, many of the locals don't come to the beach for a swim until about 5 pm-- we're pretty sure this has to do with staying pale and avoiding a tan. The beaches are generally crowded with people, hawkers, and often trash. Peace and quiet can be hard to come by when you're getting bugged to buy snacks, drinks, and paintings (yes, really) every two minutes. We watched one English guy react very badly to this... but no matter how annoying the sales pitches can be, you've got to keep your cool-- yelling at a little old lady won't accomplish anything aside from giving the rest of us tourists a bad image...

And maybe it's for this reason there are so many people saying how much they dislike Nha Trang on travel forums online-- sure, it's very touristy, some things are a bit overpriced, and the beach isn't pristine-- but in our opinion it was a nice, scenic place to relax for a while! We actually haven't gone sunbathing in ages-- the scorching Aussie sun made it a very dangerous and painful endeavour. So we delighted in being able to throw down a sarong in the sun and just be lazy. And we did splurge a little one day and rented lounge chairs & got served drinks all day at the private beach of a great local brewery/restaurant, the Louisiane Brewhouse.

But besides the wide, long beach (OK, the sand wasn't close to as soft as some beaches we've been to) surrounded by mountains and carefully manicured boulevards, there's more to Nha Trang than just the scenery. There's a certain vibe to the place-- an easygoing attitude that allows one to wear beachy clothes around town without getting stared at (normally everyone's quite covered up in Vietnam!). There's also a wealth of nice hotels at very competitive prices-- our room in the Nha Quyen was huge and well-located, with a balcony and a/c for $12USD-- and about a zillion restaurants to choose from in the tourist area. For those in need of culture, there are the ancient Po Nagar temples built by the Cham civilization around the 7th to 12th centuries (we're not experts on this, but we gather they were a Hindu kingdom which occupied the area around that era), and countless Buddhist sights to take in. There are many snorkelling, diving, and island boat tours-- which we opted against, as we've heard whisperings of "dynamite fishing" being done not so long ago in the area, and now many of the reefs are a bit lunar-looking and devoid of sea life. The number of dried seahorses for sale at the local market made us a bit suspicious of the underwater scenery too.

We also made some really great local friends in Nha Trang-- while indulging in some excellent Italian food at a little restaurant called Olivia one evening, we ended up chatting for hours with our very bubbly waitress (who we later learned was the owner). We exchanged some English for some Vietnamese, shared some laughs, and suddenly Kim Anh had elected herself our personal tour guide, taking us to the local vegetarian restaurant with her cousin (we'd arrived in the midst of a monthly? Buddhist rite when everyone eats veggie for three days around the full moon), another day around all the important Buddhist temples in the city--even for a feast with a bunch of young monks!-- and later on to her family's house for the meatfest that ends the vegetarian days (eek! says Dayle), where we drank beers with the uncles and her grandfather and learned a bit more about everyday life in Vietnam. We feebly tried to repay the kindness with an introduction to the almighty fajita at a place called El Coyote...

The moral of our story is that we're realizing more and more how important it is not to have expectations about a place before going there, and to stop feeling the need to see every sight/going to all the tourist traps to get the real vibe of a place. Sometimes not being a total tourist can work in your favour-- if we hadn't slowed down and had some beers on our balcony instead of hitting the bars, we wouldn't have noticed the goings-on of the local brothel across the road (in daytime it appears very much like a nail salon!). If we'd run screaming at the first sight of a cockroach in the bathtub, we wouldn't have had six very bug-free nights-- and lovely days on the beach!-- after that.

3 comments:

Paula said...

we want more!!! we want more!!!

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