Written by Pham Ha.
With a view to exploring the local area in depth, and with a possible investment in mind, my friend Long and I, together with a local tour guide named Thong, took to the road and the sea to discover everything Nha Trang has to offer – the city, islands, beaches, and restaurants as well as the many gorgeous bays of Khanh Hoa Province.
The coastal city of Nha Trang lies 450 km from HCMC and 1,280 km from Hanoi and is also a gateway to the former French hill retreat of Dalat in the central highlands, just two hours away by car. The city can be reached from both Hanoi and HCMC by air to Cam Ranh Airport, 30km from town, or by train from Danang, HCMC and Hanoi.
Khanh Hoa province has 3 famous bays, and is the country’s premier beach resort with a long sandy beach and many bars, restaurants and shopping outlets along Tran Phu Boulevard, and many offshore islands ideal for snorkelling and diving. Van Phong Bay has a long white-sandy beach and lagoons, along with a deep seaport for industry, while Cam Ranh Bay is an off-limits naval base.
For many years Nha Trang has been a popular holiday destination for Vietnamese and international travellers, with its 7 km stretch of white-sand beach being perfect for swimming in quiet, calm waters and for taking day trips out to the nearby islands.
The islands of Mot and Mun are marine protected areas and are preferred sites for scuba diving and snorkelling. Yen Island is lush and green and is where the nests of the salangane birds have been harvested for years to make the traditional ‘birds’ nest soup’.
Nha Trang is warm and sunny all-year round, with an average temperature of 23°C. Rainfall is less than anywhere else in the country and the area is rarely threatened by storms as it is protected by the Truong Son Mountains and Ca Pass.
Cam Ranh Bay – mountains meet the sea
On the way into town from Cam Ranh Airport you pass by beautiful Long Beach, where there is a sign indicating that Hyatt and Marriott hotels are to be built soon: a sign of things to come.
Stretching for 40 km to the south of Nha Trang, the new road that links the city to the airport is lined by mountains on one side and the sea on the other, passing by many floating villages. Cam Ranh Bay has a deep sea port with a naval base and some tourism facilities.
From Cam Ranh Bay we enjoyed the dramatic scenery and could already see new resorts being built along the new road. So far there is only one now open, Amanoi Resort, in Nui Chua National Park on the border of Khanh Hoa and Ninh Thuan province.
The national park, overlooking the sea, covers an area of about 30,000 hectares of land and sea with its highest peak, Co Tuy, being 1,039 metres above sea level. Travellers can trek through the forest to reach a lake and then continue down to Thung Beach. Must-see destinations include the sea turtle rescue site at Thit Beach and the giant ancient coral reef dating back 2 million years in Otter Cave.
We took a boat trip out to Binh Ba Island to enjoy delicious, fresh lobster from a small local restaurant.
Van Phong Bay – sand dunes and endless beach
Just a 60-km scenic drive north from Nha Trang, past deserted beaches and fishing villages, the sand dunes and endless beach at Bai Na are even better than those at Mui Ne.
We had lunch in a very friendly family-run restaurant in Mui Do, facing the lagoon, which serves the freshest of seafood and vegetables. It wasn’t easy to find but it was well worth it when we did.
Whale Island is accessed from Dam Mon jetty if you wish to escape for a few days and stay in the only lodge on the island. We decided to just cruise around for an hour or so, sailing past small islands, lovely beaches and fishing villages. We were told there is even pearl production going on in the bay.
Nha Trang Bay – islands abound
Just 15 minutes from Cau Da Harbour in Nha Trang by speedboat, Mieu Island has a bustling local market selling fish and vegetables, with the pungent smell of fish sauce (nuoc mam) filling the air. At Whale Temple, local people come to pay their respects and ask that whales protect them at sea and bring them good luck. We also took a 30-minute walk across the island to Tri Nguyen Aquarium.
One hour from the harbour is Mot and Mun island, popular with snorkelers and scuba divers of all levels of ability because of the rich marine life in the Hon Mun Marine Park. As time was short we marvelled at brightly-coloured fish from a glass-bottomed boat, which is also perfect for non-divers.
Dam Bay on Tre Island is a tranquil lagoon that is home to fishermen and farmers. Coconut palms dot the deserted beach. As we cruised through the bay we discovered another paradise, Tre Beach, a wild stretch of sand with tropical coconut trees. We were accompanied by Robin Loc, so called because he has escaped the rat race to live close to nature on the island.
In just 30 minutes, he had caught fish for our lunch, which he served up with forest vegetables and cold beers under the shade of a cabana. The setting was idyllic and Robin Loc played his guitar and sang a few songs as the sea lapped upon the shore. Such simple pleasures and it was so hard to say goodbye as we headed back to Nha Trang.
During our last day relaxing at our hotel, Long and I discussed what we had seen. There is still so much untapped potential in this beautiful area and he believed that he could expand his successful business in Halong Bay, where he operates a fleet of five luxury boats, to Nha Trang Bay including the overnight for one or two night cruising around three bays in Khanh Hoa Province.
Emperor Cruises (www.emperorcruises.com) are inspired by the opulence of the imperial reign of Bao Dai and with so many smart international hotels and resorts already here, the airport receiving international flights and the expansion of the seaport to berth large luxury cruise ships will open up so many opportunities in the future.