Superlative days at the beach NHA TRANG

Nha Trang, a hub of activity since French colonial times, is still a magnet for those seeking a sandy beach, relaxing days, and exciting nights.

“Nha Trang is located in beautiful Nha Trang Bay, which was chosen by US magazine Travel and Leisure for two consecutive years as one of the 29 most beautiful in the world,” Minh Nguyen, a guide working for Ever Green Tour, said at the start of my Nha Trang City Tour last weekend.

“The city has a temperate climate with more than 300 sunny days in a year, and storms rarely hit the city thanks to the belt of 19 islands.”

As a Saigonese flocking to parks, swimming pools and anywhere else cool to escape the unusually sweltering weather this summer, I chose to experience the luxury of the newly opened Sheraton Nha Trang Hotel&Spa, relaxing in the cool, pure sea and exploring the interesting sites of this beach town.

To someone fond of adventure, a city tour may seem a trifle boring, but for me a weekend spent on Nha Trang’s stunning beaches, spectacular bay, and other attractions was entirely satisfactory.

“The largest islands which are home to some of the best resorts are Hon Tre, which is now known as Vinpearl Island, Hon Tam, Hon Mun and Hon Heo,” Nguyen told us.

From the hotel to the Oceanography Institute in the southern end of town is a few kilometres. Established in 1922 on an elevated piece of land, it is the country’s only oceanography institute and centre for marine science. It is housed in the second building the French built in the city after the Nha Trang Pasteur Institute, our friendly guide told us.

We went through a small gate and entered a building that looks a little humdrum, but inside it is stunning.

There are large aquariums containing dangerous creatures like sting rays, electric rays and sharks.

Small glass tanks contain creatures in a dazzling array of colours, sizes and shapes: small sea urchins, a colourful explosion of coral reef fishes, 25cm-long cardinal fish with their two distinctive dorsal fins, squirrel fish that produce clearly audible clicks, stonefish with their venomous stings, 50cm-long clown triggerfish with their unique coloration, 1m snappers that can change colour quickly to blend into their environment, and 3m-long moray eels that hide in coral crevices.

There is a spotted seal in a tank containing turtles. Spotted seals inhabit ice floes in the waters of the north Pacific Ocean though they migrate as far south as the coast of Japan.

“A fisherman in Quang Ngai Province caught this seal in August 2008. The institute also received three spotted seals caught in Quang Ngai and Quang Binh but they lived for just five months,” Nguyen said.

The institute has the skeleton of a humpback whale that measures 18m long and weighs 10 tonnes.

It was found by farmers in what is now Ha Nam Province in the north while they were digging an irrigation canal, buried more than a metre underground 4km from the sea.

Ponagar Cham Tower

Our next destination is the Ponagar Cham Tower situated on a granite hill on the left bank of the Cai River.

It is a complex of seven east-facing temples built by the Cham people, only four of which still remain. Though the Ponagar Tower Festival has just finished the temple is crowded with tourists and some Cham people who have come to worship.

“Unlike the Kate Festival the Cham celebrate on the first day of the seventh lunar month to revere Shiva, the God of Destruction,the Ponagar Tower Festival is a traditional festival commemorating Holy Mother Thien Y Na, a Cham woman who planted trees, took care of wild animals, and strengthened solidarity among Viet Nam’s ethnic groups,” Nguyen explained.

We stay for a while at the tower to take photos and buy pictures made of sand and brocade products made by the Cham from souvenir shops that have come up around the complex.

To the north-east of the town is Co Tien Mountain (Fairy Mountain) consisting of three peaks that gives it the appearance of a “reclining fairy” with her long hair streaming down into the sea. If you know what to look for, that is.

We return to the hotel after sundown when it was still a little bit early for dinner, and I decide to swim and have a glass of pina coladas by the pool on the sixth floor.

When the sun goes down, I go to the first floor to try dim sum at Steam’n Spice, the restaurant that celebrates “the best of Asia’s streets” in a cheery indoor space.

We then retire to the Wine Bar from where we watch the bay through glass walls.

I turn in early after a full day. My room, which has custom-made carpets in jute and cotton, exudes a deliberate, earthy warmth.

Outside my room, the balcony juts out far enough to allow a view of the bay and beach.

Sleep comes easily even as I am busy thinking of a schedule to get in cooking class, Thai massage at Shine Spa, tailored regimens by Core Performance at Sheraton Fitness, and breakfast at Feast, the hotel’s largest restaurant. — VNS

Inspiring view: Co Tien Mountain (Fairy Mountain)  consists of three peaks that give it the appearance of a
Inspiring view: Co Tien Mountain (Fairy Mountain) consists of three peaks that give it the appearance of a “reclining fairy” with her long hair streaming down into the sea. — VNS Photo Hoang Ha.
Lap of luxury: A swimming pool on the sixth floor  of the Sheraton Nha Trang Hotel&Spa. — VNS Photo courtesy of the  hotel
Lap of luxury: A swimming pool on the sixth floor of the Sheraton Nha Trang Hotel&Spa. — VNS Photo courtesy of the hotel

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