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Nha Trang - Down by the sea

 

Nha Trang isn't just another beach town. Thu Ha discovers rare fish, deadly plants and hot mod. 

From the windows of the plane Nha Trang seems to lie suspended between the blue of the sea and the green of the Truong Son Mountains, the town outlined by a thin strip of lace: the beach.

One story behind the towns name holds that "Nha Trang" is a Vietnamese version of a Cham word meaning "land of rushes". This theory is supported by an old folk poem:

Rain from the meadows
Wind in Tu Hoa
Tigers in Khanh Hoa
Ghosts in Binh ThuanCapital of Khanh Hoa
Anh tigers can only survive in low-lying fields of rushes.


Invariably the first thing visitors do upon arriving in Nha Trang is head for the beach. Stretching for five km, the main municipal beach is bordered by Trang Phu Street - longest and prettiest street in town.


Island hopping
While swimming at the main beach is fine, no visit to Nha Trang
is complete without a boat trip to the islands that dot this dazzling blue bay. At 6 a.m., the city's port is crowded with hundreds of tourist boats, which charge VND 100,000 for a full day trip to offshore islands.

First stop was Tri Nguyen Island, where I peered into a manmade fishpond that holds hundreds of species of rare fish and stepped into the Water Palace - a somewhat lower-tech version of Singapore's underwater world aquarium complex. While the facilities weren't as modern as those in Singapore, the marine diversity was amazing. Vietnam's sea life is astonishingly rich. I saw a three-meter-long White Sea eel with a brocade-like pattern on its head and a sea dragon eel, its body rippling like silk ribbon.

From the Water Palace the boat carried us to Hon Tam (Silkworm Island), so named because of its long, wiggly shape. There was a good beach for bathing, plus water sports like parasailing, jet skiing, fishing and diving. While parasailing is offered in other places around Nha Trang, I recommend trying it here. The water is perfectly clear and from this distance Nha Trang resembles a white sailing ship. Because dock workers regularly throw fish food off the pier, the water in the harbor is teeming with so many fish that it feels as if you could reach in and grab one.

What I liked most about Hoan Tam was the forest of kim giao trees - a rare species of tree that has grown to extraordinary proportions. In the classic Vietnamese epic The Tale of Kieu, the young man Kim Trong is compared to one of these trees in a line "Sparking like a jade and ruby grove". Since the sap is extremely poisonous, folk wisdom discourages people from cutting these trees.


Dirty pleasures
The following day I rented a bicycle and explored historic sites around Nha Trang like Chanh Toa Church the Ba Po Nagar Cham Towers and the remnant of Dien Khanh Fort. Hot and tired from biking, I made my way to Nha Trang's famous mineral mud baths, which lies 3 km from the Cham Towers. Mineral rich spring water is sourced 100m underground temperature of 65 to 70 degrees Celsius the water has cooled to about 45 degrees by the time it reaches the baths. After soaking in the spring water, I slipped into a tub filled with mineral rich mud for about 30 minutes, then sat in the sun to let the mud harden before washing it off. People can choose private mod pools (VND150,000) or tubs big enough to fit groups.

As well as being relaxing, the mineral soak and mud bath left my skin and hair smooth. Mineral baths are also reported to ease conditions like arthritis, sciatica and muscle aches.

A new addition to the facility is a 20m-high manmade waterfall. Visitors sit on a boulder beneath the falls, allowing the water to cascade down and massage their neck and shoulders. Hot springs hydrotherapy is another new service, in which dozens of jets of warm water provide a soothing underwater massage.

On the way out, be sure to buy some bottles of mineral mud. The mud keeps for three months and is great for your skin. Back home you can slather on a mud facemask, sit in the bathtub and relive your beach holiday.

 

 

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