Nha Trang is a provincial capital city of Vietnam that feels like a resort town. Like Danang in central Vietnam, the city is right on the beach. While Danang has been grabbing international headlines with it’s Golden Bridge and listing of top places to visit by the NY Times, Nha Trang has been quietly getting on with becoming an international beach destination in its own right.
My most recent visit was on a stopover as part of a cheap flight I cobbled together from Saigon to Hong Kong. I found a cheap flight with Hong Kong Express from Nha Trang, which worked out cheaper than flying direct from Saigon. I like visiting Nha Trang, so I took the opportunity for a revisit. It also gave me an opportunity to update the Future Nha Trang development guide.
I was last here over two years ago, which is enough time for major changes to happen in this part of the world. I arrived at night and my flight went over the city before joining the landing queue. Looking out the window it was like looking at a Little Vegas on the sea. Not that there are casinos everywhere, but there are more LED-lit towers here compared to my last visit.
My first visit to Nha Trang was in 2005. At that point the airport was still in the city (you could walk from the airport to the city) so they couldn’t build tall towers near the airport. Since then the airport has move 40km to the south at Cam Ranh. Walking along the beach road now it’s hard to believe it’s the same city.
This shopping plaza and cinema complex was just a few floors high on my last visit. It’s opposite the beach so you can now go to the beach and then the movies (but don’t go in that order).
Nha Trang has traditionally been popular with Russian tourists, and there are direct flights from Russia to Nha Trang. On a flight deals sites I’m subscribed to I’ve seen special deals from Nha Trang to Novosibirsk, which is a city pair I would never have thought to fly. I was sorely tempted, but I think I should visit Moscow for my first visit to Russia.
While there are many Russian tourists here, the Little Russia (where there are Russian restaurants and tour agents) make up only a few blocks. Step back a few blocks from the beach and the city goes back to being an everyday Vietnamese city. It reminds me of my time in Playa del Carmen, where it’s touristy and overpriced on the first few streets near the beach, but go back a few blocks and the tacos were half the price and twice as good. This “blocks from the beach” metric can be applied to most beach cities.
I’ve been here enough times to have some favourite places to eat. I didn’t get round to researching new places, so I gravitated towards the most famous Bun Ca (fish noodle soup) establishment.
This is a popular place for breakfast, and every time I go it’s always crowded.
I love watching the process of making bowl of soups, like a finely-tuned production line.
On the way back I visited one of the main markets, which offers a stark comparison to the new towers sprouting up behind it.
I don’t cook, and as a traveller there is no point for me to be here, but there is something satisfying about wandering around a fresh market.
In addition to Russian tourists, visitors from China and Korea have grown considerably. According to one report, Nha Trang was ranked third for Southeast Asian beach destinations by Chinese tourists in 2018.
I was looking for statistics about Chinese visitor numbers when I was at the airport, as there were flights departing to places all over China. I’ve been to Guangzhou and Hangzhou, but I didn’t even know there was a Changzhou.
Some media commentators were sceptical about VietJet buying 100 new aircraft, wondering what the hell they were going to do with them all. If you only think about the current established routes then yes that is a lot of aircraft. But if you are looking to expand into new markets in China to regional cities in Vietnam, then 100 aircraft might not be enough.
Looking at the airport Wiki page, at the time of my visit there were 28 destinations in China with flights to Cam Ranh. (The destinations are Beijing–Capital, Changchun, Changzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Guiyang, Hangzhou, Hohhot, Hong Kong, Kunming, Nanchang, Nanjing, Nanning, Ningbo, Quanzhou/Jinjiang, Shanghai–Pudong, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Taiyuan, Tianjin, Wenzhou, Wuhan, Wuxi, Xi’an, Xining, Zhengzhou.)
To put that in context, Chiang Mai became well known for an influx of Chinese tourism, especially after a famous movie in China was set in Chiang Mai. When I was Chiang Mai last year I looked at the Chinese destinations for CNX, and there were 21 Chinese destinations.
And don’t forget South Korea. I’m unfamiliar with South Korean geography, so I had to Google where Daegu is.
I’ve blogged about how Danang might be a good retirement destination for me in 20 years when it has more accoutrements of international city life. I would also keep an eye on Nha Trang as a beach destination in Vietnam. It’s getting better connected regionally, with AirAsia now offering flights from Bangkok.
One improvement that would really make it great living city would be the proposed high-speed line to Saigon. There has been proposals for years of a Hanoi-Saigon high speed line, which may not happen in my life time at the current rate decision-making delays. The Saigon – Nha Trang section was proposed to be started first, and it would be connected to the new Ho Chi Minh City Airport at Long Thanh. The current train takes about 8 hours – absurdly slow for a 411 km journey. A high speed train of 350KM/H would put Nha Trang about an hour and a half away from Saigon and the new airport.
Even if they just built a regular intercity service that can travel at 160KM/H, that would make the trip a more reasonable time of under 3 hours.
I will no doubt be back, probably by some new flight route that I would never have thought of, so I will do another trip report then.