We arrived in Nha Trang at midnite after an 8 hour train ride from Saigon. Contrary to what you expect, the train wasn’t that bad -besides the squat toilets-it was mostly clean, had air conditioning and assigned seating.
Luckily in Nha Trang, all the taxis use a meter. I mean they actually use it. It seems as though by law in most of these countries the taxi are required to post that they have a meter, and have one installed on the dashboard, but they don’t actually use it so they can get more money out of you by negotiating a price. For some reason, this doesn’t happen in Nha Trang. I call it luck.
Like I said, we arrived at midnite and were pretty tired, even if the train wasn’t that bad. We had booked a private room at the Backpackers House hostel. This was our first mistake. We had tried to find a nicer place, which wasn’t so party central, but we when we hadn’t received a response, we just booked this place on Hostelworld.com so that we knew we had something guaranteed.
Or so we thought. When we arrived at the hostel, the guy at the front desk was asleep and looked like he’d had a couple of drinks. When we woke him up, he had no idea who we were and said that he had no record of our reservation. I told him we had booked from hostelworld and already paid a down payment and had a booking reference number. He said that his boss was out of town and so they hadn’t checked the hostelworld reservations and we were out of luck. They had a few dorm beds available but that was it. After telling him that this was unacceptable, he started to call around to other hotels to see who had availability. After about 20 minutes of calls, he found us a room at a nearby hotel for the same price. I was thankful for the fact that he did find this room for us, and from the looks of it, it was probably a lot nicer than what we would have gotten at “Backpacker House”.
In the morning, when we went in search of breakfast, we got a feel for the neighborhood and it was one we didn’t like. It was a tad too reminiscent of Khao San Road in Bangkok (less talk about back alley shows and drinking, but still too many aggressive touts). We did a little research that morning and found a highly reccommended place off the beaten track, called the Tide Hotel.
Thank God for the Tide Hotel. It was the right decision to move out of the touristy neighborhood. This place was about a 7 minute ride away from this central area, and right on the beach. I mean, right on the beach.
It was nice being out of the central area because you weren’t beating off people trying to sell you sunglasses as soon as you walked out of your door. I actually counted when we were in the touristy area and 9 people offered to sell me something in 30 seconds.
Anyway, being in this area we could just take in our lovely view, go to the beach and rest. As Vietnamese people hate the sun, the beaches are completely empty until 4:00pm. At 4:00pm, the entire town shows up on the beach to play with their kids, take a swim and meet up and talk with friends. The funny thing about being in this part of town, is that we were usually the only tourists anywhere around. When we went to lunch near the hotel, we were the only ones walking around. When we went to the beach at night, we attracted so much attention that a group of 20 teenage kids surrounded us. Owen, who owns the Tide Hotel, told us that this was the most visited town in Vietnam. I think that this must mean most visited by Vietnamese people, because it seemed as though most people were very surprised we (non-Vietnamese) were there.
By this point, the malarial medication we were on, was taking a rough toll on Eric. We ended up extending our stay in this town so that we could have a day or two to rest and recuperate.
The nice thing about our hotel, was that we could rent scooters from them for $5/day! This changed the entire way we felt about traveling in Vietnam. Being able to get yourself around town, at your own pace, stopping where you want to, feels so good after being at the mercy of a taxi or tuk-tuk driver for weeks on end. It felt good to be independent and go where we wanted and see some parts of the town that we wouldn’t have seen just walking along the beach. Although the driving etiquette is pretty nuts in Vietnam, it was worth the risk just to feel in charge again. And because this town was smaller than the major cities, it was like a lower key introduction to driving in Vietnam.
Some rules for driving (cars or scooters) in Vietnam:
*If you’re driving slowly, stay to the right. This means anything around the speed limit.
*The lanes are only a suggestion. 2 cars side by side in one lane is acceptable.
*If you want to pass someone, (all the time), honk your horn to tell them to get over. If they don’t get over, keep honking your horn. This means “Don’t even think about merging left”.
*There is no yielding in Vietnam. Simply honk your horn when you come into a traffic circle. This means “I’m here, don’t you dare get in my way”.
*Honking isn’t aggressive, simply a language for the cars to talk to each other.
*Driving on the wrong side of the street? Says who?!?
*Illegal u-turn, schmillegal u-turn.
Once you get a handle on these simple rules, life becomes a lot easier -and a lot less scary!
Luckily, the drive into town is gorgeous and we saw some beautiful beachside scenes along the way.
At night we ventured into town for dinner and with our scooter, we were able to stop back along the way at anything we found interesting.
Here we’re across the street from a night market. Again, we were the only non-Vietnamese strolling through. It shocked me how no one tried to sell me anything.
The best thing we did in Nha Trang, was a snorkeling tour. Owen at the Tide Hotel set it up for us, and for $15 we were picked up and dropped off at our hotel, had a full day of snorkeling (gear provided) and a wonderful lunch. We joined a group of several other tourists (about 20, we were the only Americans). They took us out on a two level boat-sunning platform upstairs. After a 40 minute boat ride, we reached our first snorkeling location. We had about 1 1/2 hours for snorkeling there and it was amazing! We saw so many colorful, exotic fish that the time passed by in a splash. They took us to a second snorkel location where we had about 30 minutes to swim and snorkel.
Then, lunch was served.
I found that these types of tours served the best food throughout Vietnam. They always offered a full spread and the food quality was top notch. I always had plenty to eat with the vegetarian options they provided (without being asked). This was probably one of the best meals I ate in Vietnam.
After lunch we had another 40 minutes to swim or snorkel, and then we headed back to Nha Trang. On the way back, we passed by a fishing village while our guide, Bruce, told us a little bit about life as a fisherman in Nha Trang.
After this snorkeling tour, we realized what the best part about Vietnam was. The nature. It seems like the real reason to come here is to see the natural wonder while it’s still untouched here. Certain things are better done in a guided tour-like the snorkeling trip. There’s no way that we could have organized something like that ourselves, and for $15 why not just join a tour? These things are run like a well-oiled machine and take you to all the places you want to see. Throughout Vietnam we tried to just get things done ourselves, but it always seemed that the people on the tours were having an easier time of things. In a region and a country where you could never hope to learn the language, perhaps the better thing to do is jump on the organized band wagon and just sit back and let someone take care of it for you.
We enjoyed our time in Nha Trang, mostly due to the kindness of Owen at the Tide Hotel as well as the friends we met there in the other guests. It’s a quiet town, well suited for relaxing on the beach and exploring the ocean. There are definitely interesting and beautiful cultural sites to see but we were happy to just soak it in from afar. Staying here was different than we imagined, but it was a great place to reenergize, before moving on to our next location-Hoi An.