Hangin’? Nha, Trangin’!

[Image description: Vietnamese coffee and salted caramel topped creme brulee – Story Restaurant; mahogany wood water-bearing woman sculpture; mango ice cream rolls with chocolate toppings; chicken vindaloo, butter naan and masala chai – Omar’s; Nicoise salad, negroni and salmon bruschetta – Story; Tom Kha soup, white rice and salmon bruschetta – Story]

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[Image description: Busy pedestrian night scene on Tran Phu Street.]

Vietnam is home to many popular tourist hotspots like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The beautiful beaches, rich cultural attractions, native hospitality and low prices on food, lodging, and transportation make it a wonderful place to get away. Many expats I spoke to prior to my trip mentioned all of the above. Very few mentioned Nha Trang so I was eager to set off into unfamiliar territory. Here are my three takeaways from my weeklong visit.

  1. Nha Trang is a fun resort city with plenty of amenities.
  2. The food and beverage scene is very good.
  3. There’s a huge Russian influence here.

Life’s a Beach

As I didn’t give myself any beach time in Bali, I more than made up for it here. The skies were very good although October tends to be peak rainy season. Early morning showers did not stop my chances to soak up rays. Parking in a beach chair will cost you 150,000 Vietnamese Dong (VND) or $6.60 USD. For the more adventurous there are a lot of hubs where you can rent jet skis and Hobie cats to take out onto the water. On the right and just out of the frame is Hon Tre Island, home of the famed Vinpearl Amusement Park and Resort.  The nearby islands are quite accessible and island tours range from fun and frugal to luxe and sophisticated. Do your research before you book! There are also several reputable travel agents on the Tran Phu strip who can help you find the best itinerary.

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Pho-nomenal

Vietnam is well known for their delicious Pho and Bahn Mi sandwiches. Toying with the idea of bringing you reviews of pho at several different establishments, I abandoned that idea.

 

Above, you have spicy beef bun bo hue, beef pho and Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk from Tuan’s. Forgive me for getting halfway through my pho before taking a picture. That was dinner after a long day of walking tours capped off with a long spa trip. To be more precise, 3 hours of services including a heavenly 90-minute Lomi Lomi massage at Pure Beauty Spa were well under $50 USD.

As you can see, the portion sizes are Tuan’s are healthy. The rich broth was well-flavored thanks to old school preparation and traditional spices. Both bowls had just the right amount of oil beading at the surface and a perfect portion of unctuous beef slices. The chili, cilantro, lime and green onion garnish added an extra, quite welcomed dimension. To boot, these were the cheapest meals I had all week. A bowl of either will set you back 39,000 VND, $1.72 USD and a cup of coffee is only 19,000 VND or .84 USD.

Getting over my soup kick, I headed over to Story Restaurant and Nightclub. This is a gorgeous multilevel establishment with an Alice in Wonderland theme. While I didn’t venture down to the nightclub, the main level has a large bar, dancefloor, two pools with deep-seating lounge areas and open-air dining area with excellent beach views.

The name Story could also refer to the fact that this place’s food and drink menus are a volume each. They have well over 100 dishes showcasing an array of American, Russian, Vietnamese and Thai flavors. In spite of the myriad offerings, the food is great quality. They even offer extra hot water for the coffee so that great flavor lasts and lasts. Adult beverages are nicely made, not over poured and won’t set you back more than 250,000 VND ($11 USD). My meals as seen above did not go over the $15 USD mark.

 

Indian food is always a winner for me as I am a curry fanatic. Omar’s shines through with complex yet balanced traditional flavors.  My butter naan, chicken vindaloo, and masala chai made for an awesome dinner. The helpings are generous as witnessed by a tablecloth-sized naan. The owner and his sons head a speedy kitchen with very courteous waitstaff. While my dinner was excellent, my White Russian (see the theme yet?) came slightly curdled. The culprit citrus was barely detectable but they surely have better options.

Last but certainly not least, did you notice that delectable cup of cool sweetness near the hotel phone? On my last night, I decided to investigate the kiosk that was causing a metallic tap-and-grind solo every few minutes outside the hotel. Lo and behold, it was made-to-order ice cream. I avoided street food all trip but why not end this week on a sweet kick? For $2 USD, you can choose from 30 different flavors (coffee, oreo and peanut butter to mango and green tea) then have that 3-ingredient ice cream blended and chilled to your delight. How was it? Some bites were cloyingly sweet and tasted of condensed milk but it satisfied the taste buds.

The Russian Influence

You’ll notice that a lot of the signage in Nha Trang features Vietnamese and Russian. With over 700 direct flights from Russian cities to Nha Trang, the coastal city is a big, budget-friendly draw. I did a little research on another blog but seeing the sea of Russian travelers for myself was another story.

Ball out on a budget!!! 

While a round-trip air ticket from Shanghai set me back about $400 USD, six days at my 3-star hotel was under $220, six days of dinning skimmed $150 and $50 for a Vietnam visa (see entry & exit requirements here) kept my spending well under $900.

 

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