If Qui Nhơn has unseen charms, in Nha Trang they're right out in the open. There are beautiful beaches and a gorgeous harbor, with a fleet of blue boats that put the "picture" in "picture postcard." We had originally thought to skip this place on our itinerary, but Mỹ Sơn was flooded, and we weren't going to get to see the famous Cham ruins there. So luckily, Nha Trang was back in the running.
Our first stop in Nha Trang, ironically, was a pair of Cham towers called Po Nagar. These were hugely disappointing. They were covered with scaffolding at the time we visited, and beside the usual souvenir sellers, there was a pack of very annoying girls who had nothing better to do than to hound us and giggle. We tried to talk to them, but they were unavailable for comment, and then resumed their hounding. We went inside one of the towers, and that was the last straw. The place was belching with incense. You couldn't see, you couldn't breathe. This was a Sham tower if ever there was one. The only saving grace was that the towers, and the park around them, were on a hill. I got some great shots of the harbor below.
We did our hotel thing again, and found a great place with friendly people. While the sun was still up, we drove through Nha Trang, and out to the Hon Chong Promonotory. This is a major tourist attraction in Nha Trang. There's what looks like a giant handprint on a big rock, so of course, there's the obligatory legend of the giant who had a star-crossed romance with one of the she-mountains on the other side of the water pretty standard fare. What was interesting were the hordes of people who made a day out of it, and the bizarre things the souvenir stands thought to put on offer. More interesting still was the glimpse I got of the island that the birds nests come from for bird's nest soup.
That evening we had an amazing dinner at the Red Star Restaurant, which I would recommend to anyone who visits Nha Trang. We had pan pa gỏi, a shrimp salad, which you shovel into your mouth on a crispy rice pancake make with black sesame seeds. There was beef with sesame, grilled at the table over coals. You take the beef and wrap it in rice paper with vegetables, then dip the thing in sauce. Last, we had lẫu, a fondue that you cook yourself at the table. This one had seafood and vegetables. This food was stunning. Some tourists came in and didn't know what to order, so we ordered the same dinner for them. We even took their camera and snapped their photo for them. Thats service.
Before turning in, we took a walk along the water. Nha Trang is a small city, with a number of new office buildings. The streets are wide, due we were told, to American engineering. I noticed that the farther south you go the wider the streets are. Whether this has to do with the Americans, I don't know, but the country was starting to have a different feel to it.
The next day we had breakfast at a street restaurant under a leanto, a block up from our hotel. We had bánh canh, a pork soup, which was all right. With all the eating the night before we were still hungry, and besides, we hadn't had our cà phê sữa đá yet. This is what happens when you spend too much time on holiday you get a bit spoiled. So we went back to the Red Star Restaurant, and while we were there, ordered another soup. There was a lady frying sweet potatoes in a stall across the street, so we tried some of her food as well.
We collected our things from the hotel, and drove down to Phan Rang. This is the site of the Po Klong Garai Cham towers, and whatever disappointment we had with Po Nagar, we made up for here. There are three towers on top of a hill. Each brick tower is a different shape, and the size and solidity of these towers is imposing. They've been standing there for a thousand years. The entrance to one of the towers had Cham writing, which is definitely Indian in origin. The caretaker showed us modern Cham writing, which is completely different. Inside the temple is an altar, and the Cham still come to this place for festivals.