Nha Trang, a hidden gem!

Nha Trang is one of those places that you would not want to leave. It is not only beautiful but less crowded and less commercialized like most other tourist spots. If you want a quiet getaway from city life and want to relax and enjoy the beach, seafood and the sheer beauty of nature, Nha Trang will not disappoint at all!

Nha Trang airport was quite small but had enough eateries and money exchangers. As soon as we landed we had a chocolate brownie and the famous Vietnamese coffee, which was suggested by my colleague. The coffee was so good that I did not leave any opportunity to have it while I was in Vietnam.

We exited the airport and hired a pre-paid taxi to our Airbnb accommodation. We decided on Airbnb as we had little or no information about Nha Trang. We thought having a local host would help as they may know the place in and out and suggest the best itinerary and provide us some tips which we may not get in any books.

The journey to our flat was about 30 minutes but I guess our sight-seeing started right from the airport as the way to the city is equally beautiful. I was very excited to see the city and had already raised my expectations. By the time we reached the city, the sun had set and the streets were getting lit up. For someone who loves city lights and colorful ones at that, I immediately fell in love with the city. What’s more, the entire city is built near the coast and mountains on the other end.

We reached our flat and freshened up and rested for a while. However, the thought of going out and exploring the city kept bugging me. So I go up and checked the printouts kept for us by our host Steve for the best places to see in Nha Trang. My friend and I had a quick glance and asked Steve where we could hire a two-wheeler or bike and have dinner. Steve suggested we hire the bike from the place just below the apartment. We headed straight for the night market along the beach to serve the dual purpose of shopping for souvenirs and having dinner. I had prawn Tom Yum Soup, which tasted a little different from the authentic one but was equally delicious. The night market was just
….a single street with two main roads at each end. At the coastal end, you have the famous Sailing Club Nha Trang | Internationally renowned Bar, Restaur… We wanted to go to the club and see a night view of Nha Trang from the top but decided to skip and just relax at the beach and discuss life and its times. Nothing beats a good conversation. The cool breeze and relaxed atmosphere and an air of independence – what else could we want! It was now time to go back and rest and plan for the next day.

The next day, my friend spoke to Steve again and planned for the day. By the time we left, it was 11 AM. So, we decided to have brunch. We had seafood fried rice, soup, and coffee. Everything tasted good. We used the wi-fi at the restaurant and set the navigation on for Po Nagar. We did not take a local SIM card to stay away from gazing at our electronic devices all the time. Thus, used the wi-fi to set the navigation on both our phones for two locations; restaurant to Po Nagar and Po Nagar to Nha Trang Cathedral. What’s amazing is it works without an internet connection.
We reached Po Nagar temple within 20 minutes and bought the entry tickets. We thought of spending 30 minutes in the temple expecting not much as coming from India we had visited many temples before. What surprised me is we ended up spending around 3 hours inside the temple! It is definitely big but not as big as other major temples I have seen.
As we entered, we noticed a priest worshipping and what surprised us is that cigarettes were used instead of incense sticks or ‘agarbattis’. We tried asking the priest but because of the language barrier, we could not get his answer. If you know why, please drop a comment. We climbed more stairs to reach the top. This is where the main temple was. We saw people wearing robes to enter the temple. It is mandatory if you are not fully covered. Note that robes were not charged by the temple and have to be returned while exiting the temple. We tried the robes but before that clicked a picture with the tour guide who was wearing Vietnamese traditional dress and looked beautiful. She gladly agreed and posed with us. There is something about Vietnamese people; they are very warm, cheerful and kind.

We visited the temples and went to the back side of the temple to catch a local folk dance show. This show takes place at regular intervals. The view of the city from the temple is beautiful. Indians will definitely be reminded of Goa and Mandovi river. You can see the two bridges and fishing boats lined up; a good spot for photography. By now, we were totally dehydrated and ordered coconut water to sit and enjoy the view too. We scraped the last piece of coconut inside the shell with the spoon. Coconut not only quenches your thirst but also fills your stomach! Nevertheless, I had an ice cream too after that! Just then an old man came to us and started asking where we were from. He shared a bit of history about Vietnam and how Vietnamese loved Indians. We felt welcome.

Just before leaving we decided to see the local art in the stores in the temple. One of the shops was completely dedicated to sand art. The artwork was intricate and needed a lot of patience. It was something really unique that we saw.

We then decided to go to our next destination, Nha Trang Cathedral. The cathedral is an absolute beauty! It is quite old and a beautiful church to get married in I thought. Just as we entered, I saw a bride in a beautiful gown and the photographer clicking away her pictures. I clicked one too as she looked beautiful in the sun-kissed face during the golden hour. We entered the church, offered our prayers and came out to take more pictures. After exiting the church, we went to another gate, which is another entrance to the temple. I saw few other tourists entering the church from here and noticed that the guard was charging money for entering! This was absolutely illegal. We scolded the guards that they were not doing the right thing and church welcomes people from every religion and race. I believe if any religious place charges entrance fee it seizes to be a religious place. I am not sure if they understood but we guided the tourists to the main entrance where no one stopped. However, when we went to take our vehicle from this entrance, the guards asked us for the parking fee, which I again found ridiculous. Being a Christian myself and attending church from childhood, I have never paid parking fee anywhere. I gave him a piece of my mind and warned him that I would report to the police and the Bishop if they illegally tried to dupe tourists. They were quiet and allowed us to go without parking fee. Please do not get cheated by people like them.

Now it was a little adventure to find our way back. However, both of us have good direction sense and memory, which helped us back to Po Nagar and then to our stay. Near Po Nagar temple, there is a bridge from where you can catch the sunset. We watched the sunset and decided to come back the next day only to shoot it. We then went to the beach and had street food. We went back to Night Market again to shop and had dinner on the way. We ordered prawns and crab from our first stop and then had Tom Yam soup with rice noodles, and coffee.

On our second day, we had breakfast near the seaside, which consisted of toast with omelet and Vietnamese coffee. As a welcome drink, we were given wheat beer, which I kept sipping to my own amazement. We then took some pictures near the sea before starting on a long winding journey along the sea-shore. The plan for the day was to visit  Luong Son fishing village and the Buddhist pagoda. We took the longer route as suggested by our host along the sea to enjoy an amazing view. We stopped in between at several spots to take pictures and finally halted at a cafe for coconut water. We tried searching for the pagoda but could not find it. So we went to the fishing village and observed fishing life. The fishermen and women worked together with their kids to clean their catch and store them for selling. They were more than happy to pose for pictures and kept touching my camera lens to get a feel of a DSLR. They were also amused by my friend’s long thick curly hair. The women surrounded her and touched her hair probably to check if it was real! By the time I finished taking pictures, I noticed my friend rubbing her legs with ice. She had burned her skin because of the silencer. We borrowed more ice from the fishermen, wrapped in a thick cloth and kept it on the wound. It was now my turn to ride on our way back to the city. I cannot describe the fun I had driving along this route. The road is good, the weather pleasant and a beautiful view to top it all.

Our next stop was the Buddhist temple, which is close to the Nha Trang Cathedral. We decided to have lunch, see the temple and then catch the sunset on the bridge. I decided to be the timekeeper. I had lunch at the temple, which was pure vegetarian and was extremely delicious. This was again suggested by our host. My friend refused to have the vegetarian food in a place, which is a paradise for seafood lovers. She kept her stomach free for pure non-vegetarian street food!

We left the temple and reached the bridge on time. Just then, a guy approached my friend and started speaking to her. He suddenly thrust his phone to me and asked me to take their pictures. He was smart enough to recognize that I was the photographer and friend his muse. My friend was scared for the first time in her life! We understood that this guy was mentally disturbed so we quietly obliged, returned his phone and started walking fast to our bike. As soon as he was away from our sight, we returned to take the sunset shots. What a beautiful view it was.

We then returned to our bike and decided to take the much famous mud bath. However, it was closed as it was too late in the evening. So we went to our room, freshened up and then went for seafood dinner. My friend ordered crab and prawns while I had fruit salad. We returned to our apartment and returned our bike putting an end to our amazing trip to Nha Trang.