Since we couldn’t go to Da Lat because of Tet, we ended up in Nha Trang. The city promotes itself as a coastal resort with a long white beach. This should have been enough to raise a few red flags before deciding to come here. But looking around, some photos seemed promising. We booked a relatively cheap place to stay, few blocks away from the beach, distant from the tourist center. And best – we did like that.
We arrived early by train. Wanting to save a few dollars, we walked to our hotel [One of the first times we actually had a long walk with our heavy bags on our shoulders – E.T.). On the map, it wasn’t very far, only 1,2 kilometer to walk. We could do that easily. But even if the distance didn’t look that far, temperatures were rising quickly and with a heavy backpack, this kilometer did seem to last forever. Elize was getting tired and grumpy very quickly. [What Stijn forgot to mention was, that we had just disembarked a night train in “hard sleeping class” – E.T.]
Because of our early arrival at the hotel, we couldn’t check in yet. After filling in our information and leaving our passports, we went into the city to find a place to eat.
Hipster Russian coffee in Nha Trang
After a quick look on Tripadvisor, we went to Alpaca, a hipster coffee place run by two Russians. We soon would learn that the whole city is full with Russians. Many Russian people opened their businesses here. Almost every restaurant is having a Russian menu and many signs in the street are also written in Russian. And even gets more crazy: walking along the promenade near the beach we came across a movie playing in one of the few outside bars… dubbed in Russian again.
Reason for all those Russians in the city of Nha Trang (and almost nowhere else in Vietnam)? A direct flight connection with Russia.
After the late breakfast we went to check out the beach. Truth to be told, we were not very convinced of its beauty. Though the promenade was green and wide, next to it was a busy and noisy street. The beach seemed to be owned by luxury hotels that have their chairs you can rent for an abnormally high price. We refused to pay for one and choose a bench in the park to sit and watch. At some time Elize realised she did not find her pocket wallet anymore holding money, bank card, a few keys and some other papers. Panic! Was it stolen? Did we forget it in the bar? Did it fall out of a pocket? Since she still had it at the hotel to take out the passport, there was the suspicious feeling it would still be there. With a small heart and little hope we returned back to our hotel.
Heart pounding, sad puppy eyes, Elize asked if they had seen her wallet. The woman at the counter at first looked as if she didn’t understand the question. We asked again. After a bit of hesitation, she dropped her poker face and took with a big smile Elizes wallet out of the drawer. “You must be very careful young lady!” she emphasized strictly. She insisted we checked all that was inside and counted the money if nothing was removed. “Vietnamese people are not the most honest people,” she continued, “you are very lucky we did find it.’. The next couple of days, we would still be reminded by her a few times.
Searching for the pretty beaches
The next day we rented a bike to find a more empty beach South of the city. Researching the options online, we thought to have found a good place. Driving around Nha Trang is not that obvious. The speed is higher than bigger cities, there are many side roads and because of the sea and beach nearby, some roads get a thin layer of sand making it dangerously slippery. Next to the bad road conditions at some parts and tourists that seem to have forgotten all driving rules, it can get rather hectic on the road.
Our bike was one piece of junk. The rear mirror was continuously falling down, the speedometer was not functioning, the direction lights had it’s hiccups and the rear brake did not seem be that effective anymore. We fixed the mirror [With a wit of MacGyver, I tried to fix it with a chewing gum. Obviously, it did not work. But a Vietnamese family running a garage had a good laugh – E.T.]. We hoped the rest would not cause us any trouble.
After some searching, we found a road to access the beach. It’s not that easy, since many huge resorts and hotels are being built along the beach, blocking direct access to the water from the road. Unfortunately, at the first stop we were sent away by a guard saying we had to leave. Because of the strong currents and the lack of coastal guards, it is not advised to swim here. A few hundred meters back we did find another road leading to the beach. But once we reached the beach, we realised it was so hot and there was absolutely no shadow we wisely opted to go a bit back. In the end we stopped at a bar near the beach where we rented a expensive bench… At least we also had an umbrella, shadow and something to drink.
Lucky Buddha charms
At some point Elize went to cool down in the sea. Sunglasses sitting on her nose, she was surprised by a large wave. Her glasses fell into the sea. Because of the very strong current and hazy water, it was impossible to find them. I still went into the sea to give it a hopeless try to find them. Gazing at the bottom of the sea, I only found some strange feeling seaweed. The sunglasses vanished. Elize sobbed, her perfect glasses, that made the world look so much more pretty, were gone. But it seemed Nha Trang would be really the lucky place for Elize. After half an hour, two foreign girls were going for a swim too some 50 meters away from where Elize went into the water first. I wasn’t paying much of attention, but Elize, looking at the sea like a real Baywatch girl, suddenly took off to the two girls. It seemed they had found “something”. Their joy was only for a short time, as Elize claimed to give back their find. Lucky Buddha does exist for Elize!
Shortly after we went back to the city. [Vietnam was good to me! – E.T.]
Always looking for something new and a bit off the beaten track, we did go to a… small Greek restaurant. Nha Trang even has two Greek restaurants. There’s the “Greeks restaurant”, which we didn’t visit because of the higher prices, and there is K&T Bake and Eat. From the outside it looks like a very regular place. But reviews seemed to be promising and prices here are very normal. Our first dishes here were pretty good and as it turned out, we would return here a few more times during our stay. Homemade and excellent mousaka! The owners told us they left Greece because of the crisis. At home, they lost all their money and sick of the whole system and tragedies happening in their home country, the took all they had left and started a new little place in Vietnam. Between the lines you could sense it hasn’t been an obvious choice. Economical refugees coming from Europe. With the extremely high and absurd cases of corruption in Vietnam, you need a lot of luck and patience to get something started. And running without risking losing more money.
Day trip to Ba Ho waterfalls
The next day we got up early to visit the Tháp Bà Ponagar temple on the other side of the river. The plan was to see the sunrise from this spot as it is sitting on a little hill. We couldn’t find any information about opening hours and hoped to sneak in early. Unfortunately, a high fence did prevent us from entering. We had a look to check out the fisher boat near the water, but not much happening there. Later on, the gate opened and when walking inside the guard pointed out, that we should put our bike on parking spot behind the gate. Not much sunrise to see from this spot. [By the time the temple was open to public, sun was high up – E.T.]. Trees prevent to have a good view and the view is also wasted because of the construction of new buildings. Next to that, it was also too cloudy to see any sun. Because the temple was not much spectacular (I think we’ve seen too many already this trip), we decided to leave. To our surprise, when retrieving our bike, we had to pay to drive our bike out. Since we already paid an entrance fee, this wasn’t what we had expected. I could have left on the street if we knew we had to pay for it. Discussion didn’t help. Trying to convince them they should tell that in advance was ignored.
I wanted to drive to the bridge closest to the sea to still have a look at the heavy clouds. Trying to find the way, I took a turn to the left to early and we ended up driving through small and narrow road on a little island in the middle of the Cai River. Well, at that point, we did not know we were on an island. Locals were very surprised to see us here, I guess not many people come here. Searching our way back to the main road we did notice a small street food table where they are serving something in little clay pots.
We had seen these earlier before, but did not try them yet. It turned out they bake little eggs in it and you eat it with fish sauce. It looked small, so we had a few. Tasted pretty good! Much to the joy of the little school girls having their breakfast too. Without doubt our cheapest breakfast ever! Later we continued our road, checked out the view from the other bridge and went back into the city to pick up a picnic for lunch from the Greek place.
In the afternoon, we drove our bike along the coast in the Northern direction towards the Ba Ho waterfalls. It’s about an hour drive along one of the most scenic roads in Vietnam. The first part is still very calm and safe to ride, though little unexpected stones on the road can make you lose grip easily when not careful. The second part of the larger road was much less interesting. You have to be extremely careful from the large tour busses that drive here at insanely high speeds.
Cars take over from all sides, lorry trucks can stop at any time and cars and bikes will just come on the road without paying much attention to you. 4 lanes wide, the worst part is knowing we had to go left at some point and cross this crazy road. Luckily, no oncoming traffic was there, when we had to make the turn. Next was a small winding dirt road with big bumps, rocks and eroded mud tracks because of the rain. No easy ride, but still interesting.
To reach the waterfall, we had to hike a path leading up the mountain. We had to climb over large rocks and even cross the river. This caused a pause in our walk. Crossing the river did seem to be too scary for Elize. After a while and lot’s of frustrations from both sides, she found the right courage to take the leap. [Or Stijn man-ed up to help me..:) – E.T.] Feet stayed dry without any problem and we continued up. The path isn’t that easy, you have to climb with hands and feet up the large rocks.
While we are wearing decent walking shoes, locals go barefooted as if it’s not problem. Maybe not such a bad idea. Along the many levels of the waterfall, a huge 10 meter high cliff is used as a jumping point to dive into the water. Way too crazy for us! But because of the many wet people walking over the rocks, these rocks become dangerously slippery. Walking barefooted is supposed to give more grip. Wisely, I decide to leave my shoes on but also keep my camera safely in the bag.
Right before the last climb we met a group of young locals preparing to have their picnic next to the waterfall. One of the guys was about to open a bottle of wine by pushing the cork into the bottle. That would be such a waste so we did not hesitate to offer our corkscrew. Happy with our offer, they insisted us to join their picnic. They even had brought a little BBQ to bake fresh schrimps and the local snacks. In the end we were hanging out the rest of the day with them.
To our surprise, they knew english pretty well, making it a bit easier to have a decent conversations. They could even convince Elize to join for a swim and climb the waterfall. For me, the water was way too cold.
Little creepy moment when they were in the water, 10 meters down the stream another group of local kids started to make some noise. Using long sticks, they were trying to catch something under a rock in the water. Suddenly I did see the tail of a long snake, but couldn’t exactly see how long it was.
The kids didn’t manage to catch it. It probably had already escaped down the waterfall. One of the kids fearlessly said that it was a poisonous snake and that it did fall out of the large tree we were sitting underneath. No doubt there are more snakes. Good to know, but that last part was a bit too much of information.
After this incident, and since, we still had to make a long drive back to the city, we packed our stuff and made the descent back to our bike.
The rest of the time in Nha Trang was less spectacular. While Elize went for a massage, I worked a bit from the hip co-working place LIVINcollective. As a freelancer travelling through Vietnam, this is a really chill place to work from. You can work from the bar, there’s an office space you can work from inside. Quite expensive comparing with other bars, but the smoked BBQ dishes and coffee they have on the menu will not want you to leave.
We met a funny and cool photographer from Germany working and living together with his girlfriend in Vietnam. Later on we still enjoyed dinner in “The Lanterns’, one of the places with higher rating on tripadvisor. The filled pineapple dish is very recommended. Good and honest food for a very good price. We would still return the next day for a little bite before leaving to our next destination.