Nha Trang’s makeover
Tourists relax in a mud bath at a resort on the outskirts of the central resort city of Nha Trang.
Nha Trang is one of the most famous resort towns in Vietnam, thanks to its long and beautiful beaches. But the dazzling beaches also meant tourism was virtually restricted to sun and surf. Hoping to change that perception, the central city has been busy adding new attractions.
Yangbay, which means “God’s water” in the ethnic Raglai language, is situated in a 570-hectare valley some 45 kilometers from Nha Trang. It is surrounded by a pristine forest, and together with another waterfall nearby, Yangkang, has created many ponds, some more than 100 meters wide.
In 2008 a tourism area was set up here, and it now has several attractions that show a glimpse into the culture of the Raglai people, such as pig racing.
During New Year and other festivals each Raglai family chooses its best pig for a village race. The winner is killed and offered to the Gods and shared among the village, and the family owning the animal is awarded and wished good luck.
Also on show at Yangbay are performances on traditional musical instruments, including the lithopone, by ethnic artists.
Another must-see is a 30-meter-tall tree named Moc Thieng (sacred wood) at the entrance to the tourist area. It is actually three different trees growing close together and is so thick that it takes more than 20 people holding hands to encircle it completely. No one knows for sure how old it is, but locals say it has been there for a very long time.
The Raglai believe it is the abode of the God of Yangbay forest. Every day before entering and leaving the forest, they stop at the tree and pray for good health and career and happiness. Tourists can also take part in the traditional practice and pray for good luck.
Vietnam’s first mud bath opened at the Thap Ba hot spring on the outskirts of Nha Trang in 2000. Though many more mud baths have come up across the country since, Thap Ba remained the most famous, thanks to its quality and varied services.
However, its preeminence may now be threatened by the newly-opened resort in Vinh Ngoc Commune, also on the city’s outskirts.
Owned by architect Ngo Van Ich, the 5.6-hectare resort devotes more than half its area to a mineral mud bath, while the rest is still being built and expected to be finished in a few years.
The design is based on nature. It has an outdoor bathing area, another meant for families, massage pools, spas, and a place where tourists can try Vietnamese folk games.
We paid VND2 million (US$96) for a mud bath, which is the rate for a family of two to four. We were given a hut with wooden basins to pour mud and mineral hot water over ourselves. There were also soft drinks, fruits, ginger tea, snacks, and massage for the money.
The service is excellent with staff always available outside the hut, ready to meet any customer need.
Memento – meaning “memory” in Italian – is a 1.5-hectare resort situated around 15 kilometers from Nha Trang.
Unlike other resorts, fancy and built along the beach, Memento, owned by Tran Dang Nhon, an English teacher, is set amid fields next to a village in Dien Hoa Commune.
It is, in fact, built on what used to be his family orchard.
It has 12 bungalows designed just like local houses. There is a swimming pool, lawns, vegetable and fruit gardens, and a fish pond.
The resort offers guests various activities like fishing, kite flying, and touring the village on horse- and cow-drawn carts.
A real treat is the opportunity to enjoy authentic foods together with local families. Guests are taught how to make simple Vietnamese dishes like banh xeo (fried pancakes made from rice flour and stuffed with fatty pork, shrimp, onions, and others), and goi cuon (a salad roll with pork, prawns, rice vermicelli, and herbs in rice paper).
People who used to live in the countryside will surely feel twinges of nostalgia at Memento. For others it will be an all new travel experience.