It’s all About the Beach
Well, not totally because a lot of history played out here but many of today’s travelers come to Nha Trang mainly for the sun, the sand, the sea, and the scene. Some spend their entire holiday right here, hunkered down in the golden-sand shade of a grass umbrella while others visit important destinations like Ho Chi Minh City, some 200 miles away. It’s a great jumping-off point because Nha Trang lies right on the country’s central coast. Perhaps that’s why the players of the Champa Dynasty selected it as the center of their power. During this period it was called Kauthara.
Power players and more call Nha Trang home today as the population grows at an uncountable rate annually. The city is also the capital of the Khánh Hòa Province. Tourism is a hot industry and many people come to participate in its growth. Hotels and entertainment venues line the three-mile-long crescent-shaped beach that nestles up against a backdrop of hills and rocky outcroppings. Some estimates are that the population, at the moment, is hovering near the half-million mark with continued growth projected for the near future. And this number doesn’t even count the backpackers, ship passengers, vacation package travelers and the very fashionable jet-abouts who spend time in the luxury resorts.
Among these visitors are American history buffs, as well as Vietnam veterans, who remember that neighboring My Keah Beach was once known as China Beach, a famous recreational base for the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.
Time to Explore
Travelers must plan their time wisely because there is much to see, not so much time to see it in, and traffic can be an issue when trying to move about and make deadlines. Nonetheless, you’ve come halfway around the world to be here so select those sites that suit your interests. Among them is the Ponagar Pagoda (also spelled Po Nagar). It’s an important destination dating back to the 2nd-century AD, though references vary widely on this with same marking 781 A.D. as an important date in the construction of the complex. The brick temple rises above the sea, on Mt. Cu Lao and draws both ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists who come to worship and make offerings. As the Cham people ruled the country for about ten centuries, their temples and architectural style is visible across the land. Some experts believe their roots are based in Indian Buddhism; hence some design consistencies between Po Nagar and Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. The temple features views of the surrounding area and the Cai River. Should you choose to visit, you will probably be asked to remove your shoes.
Another place of note is the Long Son Pagoda, built in 1886 just at the base of Trai Truy Mountain. After a powerful cyclone in 1900, the pagoda was actually relocated. Here, you’ll find a towering white Buddha figure up a climb of 250 steps. Standing 70 feet tall, the statue keeps a watchful eye on the surrounding area.
One chapter of this country’s important history is tied to the French. Their influence is felt in the cuisine, the lifestyle, the architecture and the language. The Nha Tho Nui Cathedral is known by many names such as the Stone Cathedral, King Cathedral, Nha Trang Church, Nui (Mountain) Church or Sga Sau Church. Whatever you call it, know its origins date back to a priest named Louis Vallet and it features stained glass windows, a bell tower and a graceful exterior.
Other Places to See
Many cities revolve around bustling marketplaces and Nha Trang’s market is one such venue. Among the many curiosities on offer include an exotic display of fruits and vegetables unfamiliar to most of us. In addition, there will be a variety of fresh seafood plucked from the sea, often that very morning. Hand-embroidered silk clothing, conical hats (also known as non la leaf hats), ao dai, the tradition national costume, sand pictures, wooden clogs called gyoc moc, and a range of musical instruments that have been played in this countryside for generations. Bamboo flutes are fun and easy to pack, certainly much easier than the conical hat.
Before it’s time to leave Nha Trang behind, reflect on the events of the past that occurred here yet affected many nations thousands of miles away. Pause, remember, but do engage the people of Nha Trang, especially the young who are bent on making the best lives for themselves that they can. See their elders fishing at the Xom Bong pier perhaps also thinking of the past yet looking to the future. This is an historic city with a vibrant future and you are witness to it all.
Special note: There are several spellings for many sites. Ask someone to write in Vietnamese the name of the place you wish to visit if you are sightseeing independently. Additionally, allow extra time to move about, as traffic can be quite heavy.