“The sea always filled her with longing, though for what she was never sure.”
― Cornelia Funke, Inkheart
We have been in Nha Trang for almost a week now and it is exactly what we needed. Just a glimpse of the sea fills me with more joy than any mountain range ever can.
There’s something about beachside towns that makes me extremely happy; locals tend to be just as laid back as the tourists, the air is full of the buzz of people on holiday, and there’s always a constant supply of fresh seafood – what’s not to love?
Within a day of arriving we decided to extend our stay here for two main reasons: we need to catch up on some work and we really love the vibe of the place.
After working non-stop for the first two days of our stay, it was time to venture out and see some sights other than the main backpacker/tourist area that’s close by to where we’re staying. Most visitors choose hotels and guesthouses here as they’re a stone’s throw from the main beach.
Before planning a day of exploring, I like to have a look at what other websites and travel bloggers have to say about the place and then decide on what to do. As there doesn’t seem to be too much written about Nha Trang, I only really had Nomadic Matt’s guide to go by. We decided to give Bai Dai beach a go, and to then visit the Long Son Pagoda due to my love of spiritual sites. We then planned to take a look at the Long Thanh Art photography studio after coming across it on a local news site.
We jumped out of bed at 7am and began making breakfast. We’re currently staying at Cozy Condos in a serviced apartment, so we have the luxury of cooking for ourselves. Ankit rustled up his speciality – an onion and chilli omelette, while I busied myself with a muesli, yoghurt and banana concoction. Oh, and Vietnamese coffee – there always has to be coffee.
Following breakfast, we got our stuff together, I loaded the directions to Bai Dai onto Google maps and we headed downstairs to collect the scooter we had rented for the day. According to my maps, there were 27 minutes between us and the beach.
Scooting around town
I was dreading the scooter journey, as the last time I was on the back of one of these things I fell off. So understandably, I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of whizzing through Nha Trang’s traffic, especially after I’ve seen how the Vietnamese like to drive.
We collected the scooter and set off, me perched on the back with my nails digging into Ankit’s stomach. Once we made it onto the main road, I wondered if I had made a massive mistake; people came so close as they whizzed past on their motorbikes that I could have reached over and poked their eyes out if I had tried to.
Thankfully, the urban driving was short lived, and we soon found ourselves on quieter streets, passing through unexplored neighbourhoods; before we knew it we were on the open road and heading towards the coastline.
A journey with a view
The trip to Bai Dai takes you up a winding mountain road that is right by the sea. Once we hit that part of the road and we were away from all the traffic, I understood why so many people get a high from riding on motorcycles. Being out in the open like that is pretty damn exhilarating, especially if the view that surrounds you happens to be miles upon miles of stunning coastline.
Sadly what was once an unspoilt and largely uninhabited area has now been discovered by developers, who have started building a collection of villas and hotels close to the shore.
Welcome to Bai Dai beach
While you cannot say Bai Dai is off the beaten track, it tends to be overlooked by many visitors to the city as it’s a little way out of town. But travellers who have ventured there seem to rave about it online, so I was interested to see whether it was worth the journey.
We arrived, parked the scooter, and made our way down to the beach through one of the many ‘huts’ that house seafood joints that line the shore. I was eager to try out a place called ‘The Shack’ after reading a lot about the great music that they play and the fish tacos that they serve – there’s always a food-related motive hidden somewhere when it comes to Ankit and I!
As we strolled down the beach, I was sad to see that there was a lot of litter everywhere. Never a good sign.
We located The Shack, plonked ourselves down on one of the beach chairs, and ordered a coconut each. This, to me, is the very definition of perfection – sun, sea and a fresh coconut.
Now the beach itself was less impressive. Maybe I’m just a spoilt Cypriot who has enjoyed some of the world’s most beautiful beaches right on her doorstep, or maybe Bai Dai really was just that underwhelming. I’ll let you decide; but trash all over the sand and in the sea is a big no-no for me.
The sea was so dirty that I had to come out within half an hour of going in, and I had no intention of heading back.
But nevertheless, we enjoyed a few hours of coconuts and dog watching – there were a number of them running around in the sand and their antics were, for me, one of the highlights.
Oh and word to the wise – never order a coconut full with Captain Morgan. I got one in the hope that it would be as good as the Sang Som and fresh coconut I used to have in Thailand, but it fell very short – so short, I had to pour most of it away. Sacrilege!
Back on the road
We headed back to Nha Trang and on the way we stopped off to take some photos, such as this:
So all-in-all, it’s worth the trip out there if you’re looking for a beach away from the madness of the main Nha Trang one, but don’t expect anything spectacular.
Lunch break and off to Long Son
After a quick shower and a late lunch, we headed back out on the scooter to the Long Son Pagoda, which was just a 10-minute drive away. I was particularly excited about this visit, as I love seeing new spiritual sites – especially Buddhist ones, as I’m fascinated by the religion at the minute.
The pagoda was built in 1900 after the original one, which was located elsewhere, was destroyed by a cyclone.
The main attraction here is the Buddha on the hill, which is at the top of 152 steps (I didn’t count to verify this number, however), and can be seen from around the city.
The first thing you come to is the pagoda itself, and we were lucky enough to be there when there were prayers. So there was an incense-perfumed room full of Buddhist monks and worshippers listening to some chanting. I just sat for a while taking it all in while admiring their ability to stay concentrated on praying and meditating when there were so many observers around them.
We then made our way up the steps towards the Buddha on the hill. Thankfully for me (and all other non-fit visitors), there are a number of stops along the way up, the first one being the statue of the leaning Buddha, which is also an impressive sight.
We continued up the steps and then came across the source of the frequent ‘bong’ sound that I could hear while we were in the pagoda.
Here people would pay the monk and get inside the bell; the monk would then proceed to hit the bell and sing a prayer. I wish I knew a little bit more about this ritual, but I’m assuming it has something to do with meditation.
So further up the steps we went, where we came across some very elderly women who were begging for money. Some were also selling incense sticks. It always makes me feel incredibly sad when I see old people having to resort to this in order to live.
Just before the Buddha on the hill, we came across this gentleman who was sat on the floor and doing beautiful calligraphy on little pieces of red card. Again, I have no idea what it was for, and again, I’m making an assumption when I say that I think he was writing out prayers for people.
And then we finally came to the pièce de résistance – the Buddha on the hill.
Long Thanh Art Photography Studio
After seeing the Buddha, we headed to the Long Thanh Art photography studio. Long Thanh is a very well-known photographer in Vietnam, and after reading about him we decided we definitely wanted to check out his work – Ankit especially did, for obvious reasons!
The gallery is located in a tiny building on Hoang Van Thu Street, which is about a 15-minute walk from Nha Trang’s main tourist area. Inside, Thanh’s work adorns the walls. All his photographs are in black and white, and he stills uses film and a dark room – quite a novelty in today’s era of extreme post-processing.
His photographs are certainly impressive, and mainly focus on everyday life in Vietnam. Pictures of age-weathered faces, everyday exchanges between people on the streets, and women working in the rice paddies are just some of the pieces of work that we witnessed. My personal favourite was of an old lady who was holding her baby grandson – the contrast between their skin textures was so vivid in black and white; it was certainly the most emotive picture that I saw.
By the time we finished in the gallery, we were both in need of a light refuelling – of the mojito variety, that is. We therefore headed to Nha Hang Yen’s Restaurant. We don’t usually find that the top rated restaurants on Tripadvisor are any good, but Nha Hang Yen’s seems to be an exception to that rule; we visited on our first night in Nha Trang and it’s so good that we keep on going back!
We ordered a mojito each (at $2 a pop, who’s complaining?) and decided to share the caramelised shrimp pot as we really weren’t that hungry.
And that concluded our day out in Nha Trang! Verdict? Definitely visit the pagoda and the photography studio; only bother with the beach if you’re tired of the busyness of Nha Trang’s main one.
A Day in Nha Trang – Tips
- Scammers tend to operate outside of Long Son Pagoda – they’ll often approach you and offer to show you around. They’re not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts and they will charge you for something you really don’t need.
- The pagoda opens at 8am, closes at around 11:30am but reopens by 1:30pm. In order to beat the crowds you should get there as early as possible, though.
- If you’re planning to visit Bai Dai, it’s best to rent a scooter as it will cost you quite a few dollars to get there and back in a cab.
- On the road to Bai Dai (or back to Nha Trang), take a pitstop at one of the little car parks that are found on the way – great for photo opportunities of the coastline.