In the plague year that was 2020, I was fortunate to have spent most of the year in Vietnam, where the virus has so far been contained. I’ve been making the most of my time here by travelling around the country. During my travels, I’ve seen how hard the pandemic has hit tourism destinations that have depended on international tourism. Ninh Binh and Sapa are two places that come to mind, and the effects of the border shutdown can clearly be seen in Nha Trang.
While the travel side of my business is out of action, I have been spending more time on future travel projects by working on Living In Asia. I visited Nha Trang to see what hotel construction projects were still going. At this point, it’s a futile exercise to try and update any travel guides when so many places are closed.
My preferred way to travel to Nha Trang is by train, but in this case, I got a flight. The flight path from Saigon takes you over the city before descending on Cam Ranh airport to the south. If you are sitting by an A-window you can see how big Nha Trang has grown over the last few years. It’s an impressive skyline, but I knew the reality on the ground would be different.
Nha Trang has traditionally been a popular destination for Russian tourists, which is evident when you see all the shops with Cyrillic script on Hung Vuong Street.
In the last few years, China became the largest inbound market. As I reported on my Nha Trang trip report in 2019, there were flights from 28 destinations in China to Cam Ranh (the airport of Nha Trang).
Now of course there are no international flights, and this has taken a heavy toll on the tourism industry of the city. There are countless closed-down travel shops and restaurants that cater to tourists. It was depressing to walk around at night to find so many places closed down.
I remember these streets to be buzzing with activity just over a year ago. There is no way to know if these shops have temporarily closed down or have gone out of business for good. Maybe your favourite bar you dreamed of revisiting is never coming back.
A common site at hotels that have closed is the barricaded front doors with chains and sandbags. It looks like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie.
More disturbing are the new hotel and apartment towers that stand empty. These are especially ghostly at night when not a single light is on.
There are still hotels being built, which I posted on my Nha Trang construction report.
Step outside the tourism area on the beach and at least life goes on in the local economy. Nha Trang has a population of around half a million people, and if you visit the markets and restaurants you wouldn’t know there was a pandemic raging around the world.
In normal times, the beach would be busy with tourists lounging or swimming. Now the beach chairs are empty, and the accompanying vendors are gone.
Locals though use the beach at sunrise and sunset. I was staying by the beach, and one morning I woke up at 4 am and I knew I wasn’t getting back to sleep. I figured I would go to the beach for sunrise (5.30 am here) and get the beach to myself. The beach was already busy at 5 am.
I know of some nomads who have moved to Nha Trang, but so far it hasn’t taken off as a nomad hub the way Danang has. My favourite place to work here is at the Sailing Club on the beach.
I will be checking up on Nha Trang when the travel world gets restarted. Will there be empty hotels for years, or will it recover swiftly. As we keep getting told, we are in unprecedented times, so I will not hazard a prediction.