Nha Trang, sometimes spelt Nhatrang, is Vietnam’s most famous seaside resort city, and the scuba diving centre of Vietnam. It’s more lively and urban in character than other beach destinations such as Mui Ne and Phu Quoc.
Traces of human settlement in Nha Trang date back to the Cham Empire, though in times of Vietnamese rule, there wasn’t much more here than small fishing villages. The French recognised that this beautiful bay, with its islands and white sand beaches, made for a perfect bathing spot, and began the transformation into a resort city. American soldiers agreed, and Nha Trang became a favourite R&R stop during the war.
After the end of Vietnam war, the Soviet military became increasingly more present in the Cam Ranh Bay, just south of Nha Trang. After retiring, many Russian military personnel settled down in Nha Trang and opened tourism businesses, leading to an increasing influx of Russian tourists to the city, who form nowadays the bulk of foreign tourists – in the main tourism area of Nha Trang, signs in Russian are even more common than in English. More recently, Chinese tourists have become quite common as well, as in the rest of Southeast Asia.
However, Nha Trang is definitely not a Westernized resort city like Kuta in Bali or Phuket in Thailand. – it is hugely popular among Vietnamese tourists, who go to the beach mainly on early morning and late afternoon, and spend the rest of the day enjoying other attractions including mud baths or Vinpearl Land – dubbed Vietnam’s Disneyland, although it’s probably more akin to Singapore’s Sentosa.
The monsoon season is from Oct to mid-Dec. Sea winds can be heavy, and sometimes the weather can get pretty chilly. Summer, naturally, brings many vacation goers into town and hotel rooms get somewhat more difficult to find.
- Cam Ranh International Airport (30 km south at Cam Ranh). The 4th busiest airport in Vietnam. Opened as a commercial airport in 2004 on the grounds of a former American military airbase, replacing Nha Trang Airport. A new international terminal is less than 5 minutes’ walk from the older domestic terminal.
Taxi fixed rate from the airport to downtown locations is 250,000 dong, if going by the meter it will be about 100,000 dong more expensive. Nhatrang Private Car does transfers by private car.
A cheaper option is to take the airport bus which goes directly to the city center. There are a few companies operating on this route, their buses such as the yellow Đất Mới airport buses (no.18) can be found just outside opposite front entrance of the airport. Tickets 50,000 dong, 45 mins ride (2017). They can drop off at certain major hotels, within the traditional tourist center the usual drop off point is hotel Liberty Central.
- Đất Mới airport bus terminal, Yersin St. Start and end point for this airport bus route number 18. Online maps have this location called Land Transport Corp New. This bus could be used also as an economical way to visit Bai Dai beach.
Some mid-range and upscale hotels organise airport transfers, often for free.
Nha Trang is a stop on the main railway line connecting Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. If you want a soft-sleeper (the highest class available on Vietnamese trains), book your train ticket directly at the train station as far in advance as you can. Having a private travel agent book this ticket will quite often result in you paying the agent for a soft-sleeper — the agent will book a hard-sleeper and you will not know until you board the train and it is too late to make changes. This is one of the most common scams in Vietnam. Soft sleeper rooms are 4 berth, hard sleepers are 6 berth. You can sit comfortably on a lower bed in a 4 berth room but in a 6 berth you will have to be very short in order to sit up straight. SNT trains (meaning Saigon to Nha Trang) have similar quality cars, but are slower than the SE trains. The TN trains have the oldest and dirtiest cars and are the slowest so therefore are not recommended.
The journey to Nha Trang from Ho Chi Minh City takes between 6-8 hours on SE trains (often delayed), so a sleeper is not really necessary, a cushioned seat in the air-con car costs 190,000 dong, soft seats are 330,000 dong, soft sleeper about 500,000 dong (2012). There are 2 overnight and 2 daily SE trains. The SNT trains take over 9 hours and travel overnight only, departs Ho Chi Minh City at 19:40 and arrives in Nha Trang at 05:20, 535,000 dong (2012). The scenery on this journey is not that great compared to further north, so you are not missing out too much by travelling overnight.
- Train station (1 km north from the city centre).
Nearly all long distance sleeper buses stop in Nha Trang. They come from Ho Chi Minh City (10-12 hours, 200,000 dong, both morning and overnight buses available, both are sleeper buses), Hoi An (12 hours). Besides, there are hourly buses from Dalat (3-4 hours, 120,000 dong, hourly between 07:00-15:00) and a couple ones from Quy Nhon (6 hours, 115,000 dong, at 07:30, 08:30, 13:00 and 15:30), Mui Ne (6 hr).
Buses may drop off passengers near the tourist areas, or stop at the
- Central Bus station (Bến xe phía Nam Nha Trang).
which is located 7km west of the city center on the road Hai Mươi Ba Tháng Mười, next to the MM Mega Market. To get to the center, you can take a taxi or motocycle from here or catch the #2 city bus going East on Hai Mươi Ba Tháng Mười road. If you travelled with Phuong Trang (FUTA Bus Lines) you may catch a free shuttle bus which is operated by FUTA to your hotel and if not do not take a taxi conveniently parked beside the bus or inside the bus station (there is a gate at the front) and if in doubt ask 1) the FUTA ticket sellers inside the main hall or 2) several completely unrelated people.
Private car rental with a driver are usually modern air-con cars and can be rented for about 1,000,000 dong per day. Car rental prices (as mostly anything in Vietnam) usually increase during holiday seasons especially around Tet (Vietnamese New Year). Make sure to avoid high prices by booking it beforehand with the car rental services.
Nha Trang has two main beaches: a larger one south of the Cai river, and a smaller one on the north. The southern beach, lined by the Trần Phú avenue, is by far the most popular among the visitors. Tourism infrastructure catering to foreign tourists, including diving schools, tour agencies, western-style bars and international restaurants and cafes, is mostly concentrated in the southern part of the beach, between Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai and the old airport. In the central part of the beach, lie the upmarket international chain hotels such as Sheraton, Novotel and InterContinental. The rest of the beachfront, as well as the northern beach, has infrastructure mostly aimed at Vietnamese tourists. A few blocks far from the beach, Nha Trang is a normal, bustling Vietnamese city.
In Nha Trang, as in the rest of Vietnam, motorcycles are the least safe but most convenient way of going around, especially to go to the beaches and sightseeing spots outside of the city. See the general advice for riding a motorcycle in Vietnam.
Nha Trang’s city bus system is surprisingly useful for travellers that have more time than money. Buses are white and blue in color, have air conditioning, Vietnamese music, and are very cheap, typically costing less than US$ 0.50. While there is very few information available, online or otherwise, about city buses, there are not many bus routes such that it is relatively easy to understand them. In addition, buses are rarely crowded except on peak hours. On the negative side, buses are often infrequent and with limited working hours, drivers and fare collectors seldom speak English, and bus stops are often quite far from each other. Therefore, make sure that you have enough time and patience before going somewhere by bus.
Travel by Train in Vietnam
Although more expensive than buses, trains are undoubtedly the most comfortable way to travel overland in Vietnam. There is one major train line in Vietnam, the 1,723 km (1,071 mi) trunk between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, on which the Reunification Express runs. Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is more than 30 hours, and overnight hops between major tourism destinations are usually possible, if not entirely convenient. It’s a good way to see the countryside and meet upper-middle class locals, but unless you are travelling in a sleeper car it is no more comfortable than buses.
Air conditioned soft or hard sleeper is recommended, and purchasing as early as possible is a good idea as popular berths and routes are often bought out by tour companies and travel agents well before the departure time (hence being told the train is sold out at a station ticket window or popular tour company office does not mean there are no tickets available–they’ve simply been bought by another reseller). Booking at the train station itself is generally the safest way, just prepare on a piece of paper the destination, date, time, no. of passengers and class. However, unsold tickets can often be bought last minute from people hanging around at the station–a train is rarely sold out for real, as the railway company will add cars when demand is high. Commissions on these tickets will drop away as the departure time draws nearer. Tickets can be returned before departure for a 10% fee. There is also an official Vietnamese Railways website, which has an English version and accepts payments by international bank cards.
Be cautious when using a travel agent to purchase your train tickets, since there is nothing printed on the ticket saying the class you are booked in. As of July 2019 tickets (now termed ‘boarding passes’) do indicate the class of ticket.
This results in a common scam with private travel agents where you will pay them to book a soft-sleeper ticket, they then book you a cheaper hard-sleeper ticket, and you don’t know you’ve been scammed until you board the train and your berths are in the lower class.
By then with the train on the verge of departing it is too late to go back to the scamming agent to demand compensation. With the new boarding passes this scam is less of an issue although buying your ticket directly from the train station remains the best option.
In addition, there are shorter routes from Hanoi leading northwest and northeast, with international crossings into China. One of the most popular of the shorter routes is the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (with a bus service from Lao Cai to the tourism destination of Sa Pa).
Always try to buy your tickets at least 3 days in advance, to avoid disappointment, especially during peak holiday season, during which you should try to book at least 2 weeks in advance.
If you are sensitive to cigarette smoke try to book a seat in the middle of the carriage as people smoke in the areas at the end of each carriage and the doors are often left open.
Historical Facts about Vietnam
Vietnam’s history is one of war, colonization and rebellion. Occupied by China no fewer than four times, the Vietnamese managed to fight off the invaders just as often. Even during the periods in history when Vietnam was independent, it was mostly a tributary state to China until the French colonization. Vietnam’s last emperors were the Nguyễn Dynasty, who ruled from their capital at Hue from 1802 to 1945, although France exploited the succession crisis after the fall of Tự Đức to de facto colonise Vietnam after 1884.
Both the Chinese occupation and French colonization have left a lasting impact on Vietnamese culture, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese social etiquette, and the French influencing Vietnamese cuisine.
After a brief Japanese occupation in World War II, the Communist Viet Minh under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh continued the war of independence against the French. The last Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in 1945 with a proclamation of independence following soon after. The majority of French had left by 1945, but in 1946 they returned to continue the fight until their decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The Geneva Conference partitioned the country into two at the 17th parallel, with a communist-led North supported by the Soviet Union, and Ngô Đình Diệm establishing a capitalist regime and declaring himself President of the Republic of Vietnam in the South supported by the United States.
South Vietnam would be plagued by numerous domestic problems, including corruption, nepotism and electoral fraud. Diệm, who was a Roman Catholic, enacted laws that discriminated against the Buddhist majority in favor of the Catholic minority, which led to the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức self-immolating in protest at a busy intersection in Saigon in 1963.
US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew during the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the South Vietnamese government.
This escalated into the dispatch of 500,000 American troops in 1966 and what became known as the Vietnam War in the West (the Vietnamese refer to it as the American War). What was supposed to be a quick and decisive action soon degenerated into a quagmire, and U.S. armed forces withdrew following a cease-fire agreement in 1973.
Two years later, on April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank drove into the South’s Presidential Palace in Saigon and the war ended. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese and over 55,000 Americans were killed. Vietnam’s war against the United States was one of many that they have fought, but it was the most brutal in its history.
Most of the nation’s population was born after 1975. American tourists will receive a particularly friendly welcome in Vietnam, as many young Vietnamese are admirers of American culture.
After unifying the country, the communist government proceeded to root out the remaining capitalist elements in the south. Many business owners were killed while others, known as the boat people, became refugees and attempted to escape to Western countries, resulting in the establishment of Vietnamese communities in the United States of America, Australia and Canada.
The ethnic Chinese, long resented by the ethnic Vietnamese for their perceived economic clout, were particularly hard-hit by the purges.
Following the collapse of the state-run economy, the government implemented market-oriented reforms and introduced capitalist elements in 1986 with a policy known as đổi mới. This policy has proved highly successful, as it spurred impressive economic growth and infrastructure development.
Discriminatory laws against the remaining ethnic Chinese were repealed, and many have used their business acumen to contribute greatly to the revitalization of the Vietnamese economy, also regaining some of their previous economic dominance in the process.
In recent times, some former refugees or their descendants, most of whom were raised and educated in the West, have also returned to Vietnam in order to take advantage of new economic opportunities.
Today, Vietnam is widely considered to be one of the rising stars of ASEAN with a young population and vibrant economy.
Stay safe and avoid Scams in Saigon
In general, Saigon is a safe city, with violent crimes such as armed robbery being relatively rare. The most common crimes faced by tourists are pickpocketing and snatch theft from motorbikes.
Scam artists operate on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. A person will strike up a friendly conversation claiming they’ve either seen you at the airport or some other tourist place where they work.
Usually they’ll be with other family members who will join the conversation very naturally and once they find out where you’re from they’ll mention that another family member is moving to a city in your country.
You will be invited over for food at their house to help console a worried grandmother or to give advise to their family member. Once you arrive at the house however the family member is not there, or the grandmother has suddenly fallen ill and had to go to the hospital. You’ll be presented with various business opportunities, legal or not, or asked for financial support for the suddenly sick grandmother.
Hotel scams are very common, even in the mid-range price level ~USD20-70. The hotel will remind you that you should place your valuables in the room safe or the hotel safe. Lock up everything that is more or less valuable.
Don’t hold up expensive things near the street or leave them out on the table while you’re having a meal, especially in District 1, especially around the backpacker area. Petty theft is a big problem, and a lot of times it’s done by people on motorbikes. It’s easy to prevent by not giving thieves the opportunity.
Don’t buy sim card before the immigration at the airport, they will charge you $10 for a sim card. After immigration and baggage area, you can find sim card booth. They sell sim card for $6 only.
Don’t buy coconut more than ~USD2, real-price is ~USD0.5. If you are forced, call police: +84 8 3829 7643, +84 8 38299835.
A favourite trick is for the vendors to strike up a conversation with you, let you hold the carrying-stick, take a picture, and while you’re distracted open a coconut for you that you really didn’t ask for.
Also, the prostitutes on Bui Vien and Ton That Tung will try to rob you. Usually, they’ll approach men acting like they’re up to normal prostitute business, but they are to pickpocket.
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