Nha Trang, Vietnam:
Further south along the coast in the Khanh Hoa province lies the coastal town of Nha Trang. The juxtaposition of the pristine beaches and tiny islands along the South China Sea to the east with the backdrop of the looming mountains to the west has created a gorgeous landscape that explains why Nha Trang has become one of the most popular holiday destinations for both international and domestic tourists. In addition to admiring the surrounding vistas, the Nha Trang Bay is also renowned for the quality of its scuba diving as well as being a protected marine area, meaning the natural beauty isn’t likely to be spoiled anytime soon (on the water, at least). And for the fellow temple junkies out there, the city is also home to the very well-preserved Po Nagar Tower, a remnant of the Champa Era, and the Long Son Pagoda, complete with its brilliantly white Giant Seated Buddha.
Despite its natural beauty, Nha Trang does have it vocal objectors – critics who claim that the city has become too developed, that it has lost its natural charms, that it only caters to foreign travelers, and that one can’t experience the real Vietnam, whatever that may be (although that is another argument altogether). The critics, however, have missed their mark – not so much in description of the city itself, but their assumptions in what other travelers are trying to find on their journeys. Very few travelers make their way to Nha Trang expecting to experience how the locals live or what life is like for the Vietnamese; they journey here to soak up the sun on the beautiful beaches! And oh, how they are beautiful…
Da Lat, Vietnam:
Only a few more hours’ drive into the Central Highlands lies another favorite holiday destination in Vietnam: the town of Da Lat, which lies almost 1,500 meters above sea level on the Langbiang Plateau. After several days of soaking up the rays, the relatively cool climate and the mountain views are in complete contrast to that of the beaches and the sun of Nha Trang, but quite welcomed, all the same. Although the architecture remains the French Colonial style, the usual palm trees are now replaced by pine trees and the fields where rice in normally grown now host strawberry farms and flower fields.
Long-favored as a destination for newlyweds and vacationing couples, Da Lat is also home to what may be some of the most amazingly tacky attractions the exist anywhere on the planet. With names such as Valley of Love and Crazy Town, these destinations can best be described as aging amusement parks minus the rollercoasters and rides, leaving only the empty shells of photo ops beside cheesy statues of giraffes or cowboys. I’ll save you the pain of having to view these images (the tacky factor is best enjoyed in person, anyway), but here are a few of the more typical scenes around town:
Da Lat also marks my last stop before heading into the big city of Saigon itself. Until then, cheers for Nha Trang and Da Lat!