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Nha Trang-paradise for travellers

2011-07-01 (GMT + 7)

Nha Trang seemed to have put on a colourful coat. Banners and pictures celebrating the Nha Trang Sea Festival (June 11-15), which draws a multitude of both local and foreign tourist bi-annually, covered roadside walls all the way to the city centre.

A German tourist, having visited Nha Trang once before, expressed his delight at the chance to attend the sea festival.

"I want to experience the city amidst a different set of circumstances," he said, adding that, "during the festival the peaceful and quiet city is filled with street performances and artists."

The 200km Khanh Hoa coastline includes numerous pristine beaches with clear water, no dangerous fish and no riptides.

Mountains sloping down into the sea make for a dramatic backdrop while providing natural wind buffers to Nha Trang, Cam Ranh, Van Phong and Nha Phu.

This year's sea festival was kicked off with the Salanganes Festival, focused on the Hon Noi and Hon Ngoai Islands, open from February to September every year and home to scores of salanganes whose legendary nests are used to make the most divine soup.

The annual festival, held on the 10th day of the fifth lunar month (this year being June 11), is dedicated to the islands' governor, Le Thi Huyen Tram (1753-93) and her ancestor, General Le Van Dat.

While Dat discovered the value of and trade in salanganes nests in 1328, his descendant Tram, a female general in the Tay Son Navy during the 18th century, sacrificed her life to protect the salanganes islands and the Khanh Hoa sea territory. In reverence to the general, locals proclaimed her a Goddess in the hope that she would continue watching over the land, sea, salanganes and nest collectors.

As part of festivities, a ritual worshipping ceremony and performances are organised in the early morning.

Tourists seldom miss out on an opportunity to visit the famous islands and discover the kingdom of salanganes.

While the Hon Noi and Hon Ngoai islands lie close together, Hon Ngoai can only be seen from the boat while visitors are allowed on to Hon Noi in order to visit the caves where the salanganes build their nests and from which the nests are collected.

Hon Noi is an hour's boat ride from Nha Trang City, the island's beautiful red stone cliffs like something from a movie, its skies full of hovering gulls.

Visiting the salanganes caves, tourists get the opportunity to watch the bird nests being collected with the use of bamboo scaffolding from which nest collectors often fall to their death in moments of carelessness.

Exiting the cave, the aerial view of the magical island and its two stunning beaches is simply breathtaking. The beaches have often been called twins due to being linked by a thin strip of white sand, both in and outward facing.

Those who are pressed for time have the opportunity to, instead of heading out to the islands, visit an artificial salanganes cave and accompanying exhibition at the Nha Trang City Coastal Park.

Apart from the islands, tourists also have the choice to discover other destinations of Vietnam tour such as Nha Phu Bay, a 12km boat ride from the city centre.

Pine-covered Hon Thi Island is another popular destination where visitors can play with rock-eating African ostriches and maize- loving, fondle-friendly deer.

Hon Heo Island's Orchid Stream, designed as a thousand-year forest, consists of hundreds of different species of wild orchids, collected from across the globe. The Orchid Waterfall, 900m above the sea level, offers crystal clear water.

If trekking up a mountain is not your cup of gin, head to An Binh Beach for swimming, parasailing, kayaking, jet skiing and hydro therapy or take a few minutes to enjoy the animal circus instead.

Hon Lao Island is covered in non-thieving and approachable monkeys, often found lazing on the beach.

Seen from the air, Hon Tam Island, complete with artificial waterfall and only a 15-minute boat ride from the mainland, resembles a silkworm dressed in a green robe, extra special at sunset.

Hon Mun (Black Island) is so-called because of the its black stones, only found on island's south-eastern side. Black-stone caves house an array of birds while the island's beach, though not as profound as others, still offers incredible sea life and an ideal spot for marine biologists and tourists to enjoy diving and snorkelling.

The Tri Nguyen Aquarium, shaped like an old boat, forms part of a sea area recovered by way of dikes. The lake, a virtual sea museum, is home to thousands of sea creatures.

After visiting the aquarium, tourists can also swim at San (Gravel) Beach.

The Sea Festival 2011 was a great success and included scores of local and international visitors, according to Le Xuan Than, vice chairman of the Khanh Hoa Provincial People's Committee and chairman of the festival's organising board.

"The number of tourists flocking to Nha Trang increased to such a point that Vietnam Airlines had to double its flights to the city," he said, adding that, "local authorities and tourist agencies plan to lure more tourists to the city in future, even outside of festival periods."

During my stay, Nha Trang transformed itself into a veritable stage, its festive atmosphere so utterly addictive that I cannot wait to return to it again soon.

Source: VNS

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