The bus squeals as we turn, our driver breaking around each corner of the steep downhill. We desperately try to photograph the passing mountains, breathtaking and covered with dense jungle and waterfalls. With each passing kilometer, the outside temperature and humidity increases, the jungle thins out and the ocean beckons. We're on our way to Nha Trang, Vietnam's most popular beach destination.
Dubbed one of the country’s “party capitals,” the city of Nha Trang is Vietnam’s version of Miami Beach, but with a lot more Russian tourists. New development from the recent surge in tourism means the city is sprinkled with patios, rooftop bars, clubs and restaurants, many of which are half empty. The beach town is beautiful though, sitting on a 6km long stretch of yellow sand with turquoise water, book-ended by the Hon Yen, Hon Dung, and Hon Tre islands just offshore.
With all of its perfect ingredients, we're prepared to fall in love with the beach town of Nha Trang. However we quickly find ourselves missing the authentic food and genuine culture that we’d experienced in Saigon and Da Lat. A town filled with Russian tourists means most of the menus (written in Russian) include “international food” (i.e. hamburgers/hot-dogs) and a hefty markup. Even the street food seems to be catering to tourists. That being said, nothing beats diving into the warm turquoise water, immediately resulting in that vacation-ey feeling we crave.
Pita GR. While we've quickly become obsessed with Vietnamese cuisine, we're admittedly looking for some variety on our last afternoon at the beach. Pita GR is a super chill restaurant in the middle of the touristy district of Nha Trang. The kitchen is located downstairs, with a really hip dining area/bar upstairs. Antique sewing machines, faucets, and birdcages adorn the black and white striped walls. On the ceiling, an antique map.
For Greek food in Vietnam, the veggie gyro (50,000 dong/$2.50) and a big bottle of Bia Saigon White Label (25,000 dong/$1.25) is a solid choice. Our server is awesome, giving us a small dessert on the house while being friendly and attentive throughout our lunch. Eating Greek in Vietnam may qualify as a travel fail, but the pita is served warm so we're not complaining.
Iced Coffee. Sitting along the narrow patio with a checkered floor and teal decor, we feel like we've time traveled to Miami Beach in the mid-90's. The coffee is strong and sweet, but a bit expensive for Vietnam. It serves as a nice place to spend an hour researching homestays in Hoi An, but if you’re looking for a local experience, we suggest finding something more off the beaten path (cliche, but true).
street food, Nha Trang style. We’ve seen and smelled the roasting corn and sweet potatoes in Da Lat, and have been craving them ever since. So when the opportunity presents itself on a walk home from the beach, we jump at the chance. “Rustic” might not be strong enough description. Imagine grilled corn from a carnival, then add in a makeshift grill sitting about 18 inches from the ground all grilled perfectly by a local woman who speaks zero English. The corn is pretty chewy and the sweet potato crazy starchy, but we deem it worthwhile for the Vietnam experience alone.