Saturday, June 20, 2015

Nha Trang: Easy-going Vietnamese Beach Town

With a steady Vietnamese girlfriend now, I am becoming much more of a regular in Vietnam. I scheduled two relatively impromptu trips to see her recently … fortunately there are many direct flights to Vietnam from Seoul.

Po Nagar Tower looks a bit like Angkor Wat in Cambodia

For the Buddha’s Birthday 3-day holiday weekend at the end of May I flew to Nha Trang, a Russian-dominated beach community in southern Vietnam. The international airport there is certainly the smallest I have visited in Vietnam, and I was a little uneasy landing close to midnight on a flight full of Koreans (who do not need a visa to visit Vietnam, lucky bastards). The visa on arrival office was closed when I arrived, which brought a momentary pang of panic to me, but thankfully an immigration officer eventually showed up and processed my paperwork — overall the time to exit the airport was still less than in Ho Chi Minh City. I was happy to have mastered the murky Vietnam visa system once again, and to receive a big hug from my girlfriend waiting on the other side of security.

The good thing about traveling with a local in Vietnam is that renting a motorbike is no hassle. Though it’s a little strange to be a man hugging a woman from behind on the motorbike, rather than the other way around, I would rather have that than trying to learn the obscure rules of the road in Vietnam. The Vietnamese don’t seem to mind.

The motorbike tour of Nha Trang was rather uneventful, as there aren’t many tourist-worthy attractions. We stopped at Nha Trang Cathedral (my girlfriend loves churches), walked around the Long Son Pagoda (with a large Buddha statue), took in the Po Nagar Tower (built by the ancient Cham people, and resembled Cambodia’s Angkor Wat), and stumbled around the rocks on the Hon Chong Promontory (a fine picture-taking destination with the Nha Trang coastline). It was a relaxing May day, hot but dry with the occasional friendly cloud to shield us from the intense tropical sunlight.

The rocks on Hon Chong Promontory are relaxing!

The second day featured a boat tour to nearby islands off the coastline. The vessel was an old crammed wooden design, I muttered a small prayer to myself that the boat would not sink that day — taking my valuable electronics into the sea. At Mun Island my girlfriend and I did a little snorkeling together… coral reef here was bare and dull but it did make for some good swim time (requiring *strong* sunscreen). Lunch was served onboard and there was music time afterwards… a guitar, drums, and a microphone. It was karaoke time and as the only Westerner onboard (there were also Vietnamese, Koreans, and some Indians), I was asked to sing a song. Surprisingly “Hotel California” is well known in Asia … and the crowd loved it! This was followed by “happy hour” on the water, and I forgot to reapply sunscreen, leading to my first sunburn on my shoulders in some time … tsk tsk.

Day 3 in Nha Trang was a visit to Thap Ba Hot Mineral Spring mud bath resort. Don’t want to get dirty, you are thinking? Think again! I was skeptical too, but this place rocked. The mud baths are warm and relaxing and make a great day out for couples. Once you have had about 20-30 minutes of mud, you get to clean off in nice, gushing showers. This place also has swimming pools to clean off further, and a large seating area to enjoy a nice afternoon with a cocktail.

For Day 4, we flew back to Ho Chi Minh City to visit the Saigon Opera House and catch the À Ố Show (pronounced “ahhh! ohhh!”), a cirque performance full of baskets, bamboo, acrobatics, and Vietnamese working songs. It is pretty simple, short, and not really worth the inflated ticket price, but it was still an entertaining performance. If you are accustomed to the amazing acts in Cirque du Soleil, À Ố will seem a bit like a college drama performance in comparison, but it is a good diversion for a tourist’s trip to Saigon — it is certainly a unique performance.

After the performance with the cast of À Ố Show

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