COLOUR­FUL COAST

The sleepy Viet­namese re­gion of Nha Trang of­fers bliss­ful beach ac­tion along with au­then­tic food and cul­tural high­lights

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS - theanam.com

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The land­scap­ing is a work of art in it­self, and an army of 50 gar­den­ers work daily to main­tain it. For many, to lie lan­guidly on the beach, by a pri­vate plunge pool or be­side one of the re­sort’s three pools is all that’s nec­es­sary for the per­fect get­away – with a good book to dive into be­tween dips and tasty snacks and re­fresh­ments from the Anam’s In­do­chine restau­rant or Saigon Bar.

But with this type of re­sort, there’s a va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties too; the Anam boasts a wa­ter sports cen­tre with jet skis, sail­ing boats, kayaks, snorkelling gear, etc, plus a beach club with a small gym, yoga room, pool and fus­bol ta­bles, a ten­nis court, bad­minton net on the wa­ter­front lawn and volleyball court on the beach. Elec­tric bug­gies are avail­able to whisk you silently around the re­sort if you don’t fancy walk­ing, a com­pre­hen­sive spa of­fers both Viet­namese and Ba­li­nese treat­ments, and a movie the­atre shows two films a day (a kid’s film in the af­ter­noon and one for adults in the early evening).

Over break­fast with gen­eral man­ager Her­bert Laubich­ler-Pich­ler, I learn of the ma­jor plans in play for the Cam Ranh Penin­sula, as in­ter­na­tional brands such as Moven­pick and Westin con­struct largescale re­sorts far­ther down Long Beach. Ex­ist­ing prop­er­ties like the Cam Ranh Riviera, Di­a­mond Bay and Mia re­sorts, ei­ther on Long Beach or be­tween it and Nha Trang town, cannot match the Anam for lux­ury and style. “There’s no one like us in this area, and we mea­sure our­selves against bench­marks like the Nam Hai in Danang or Six Senses Ninh Van Bay,” Laubich­ler-Pich­ler says.

The Anam’s owner is a savvy Viet­namese busi­ness­man with a back­ground in the travel in­dus­try and a clear idea of where he wants his re­sort to be po­si­tioned.“We want to be the best re­sort in Viet­nam,” says Laubich­ler-Pich­ler. “Danang and Hoi An have de­vel­oped the fastest, but Cam Ranh is still a bit of a se­cret, and I think it will be the next hotspot in Viet­nam.”

Fore­sight and as­pi­ra­tions are one thing, but it also helps to have a range of in­ter­est­ing sights and tourist at­trac­tions within easy reach. The city of Nha Trang (it’s more of a large town) is just 25 min­utes away by road, and free shut­tle vans and pri­vate cars are avail­able to bring guests into the down­town beach­front area.

Nha Trang Bay was named one of the “most beau­ti­ful bays in the world” by

Forbes; tall, forested hills look down on the town from the land­ward side, and its long, gen­tle arc of sandy beach fronts onto calm wa­ters that are pro­tected from the open ocean by the large Hon Tré Is­land and a smat­ter­ing of smaller islets, which to­gether make up a ma­rine na­tional park.

The beach prom­e­nade is busy with tourists, mostly Rus­sians and Ja­panese, as well as a smat­ter­ing of back­pack­ers. Grand ho­tels face the wa­ter, both in­ter­na­tional brands like the Sher­a­ton and In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal, and in­de­pen­dents such as the Pre­mier Ha­vana, Starcity and the French colo­nial splen­dour of the Sun­rise Ho­tel. The streets run­ning back from the cen­tral wa­ter­front area are a war­ren of bars, seafood restau­rants, bud­get ho­tels, travel and tour op­er­a­tors – all the trap­pings of back­packer and pack­age tourism that’s the re­sult of an eco­nomic boom here in the last 15 years.

Over on Hon Tré Is­land is the mas­sive Vin­pearl Re­sort and theme park – linked by a ca­ble car from the main­land via lit­tle Eif­fel-like tow­ers strung across the wa­ter that light up at night. To the south on smaller Hon Tam Is­land plans for the 2020 launch of a Court­yard by Mar­riot have re­cently been an­nounced – clearly this is still a ris­ing des­ti­na­tion for in­ter­na­tional hol­i­day-mak­ers.

Dur­ing the day the heat keeps ac­tiv­ity slow and muted, the op­pres­sive sun suit­able only for beach loung­ing for the ma­jor­ity. I, how­ever, am de­ter­mined to ex­plore the town’s cul­tural sights. First on my list is the Bud­dhist Long Son Pagoda, first cre­ated in 1889 on top of a hill but re­built at its south­ern foot af­ter a storm de­stroyed it in 1900. The main hall con­tains a 600kg bronze statue of Gau­tama, while a 24-me­tre, gleam­ing­white Great Bud­dha statue has capped the sum­mit of the hill since 1964.

A short ride back into the town cen­tre brings me to an­other small hill, this time topped by Nha Trang Cathe­dral. Viet­nam has South­east Asia’s sec­ond-largest Catholic com­mu­nity, and this at­trac­tive pil­lared build­ing with its stained-glass win­dows, shady walk­ways and great city views is in con­stant use by faith­ful devo­tees. On an­other rise of ground be­side

the river at the north­ern end of the main beach are the Po Na­gar Cham ru­ins – four pic­turesque red-brick tow­ers built be­tween the eighth and 11th cen­turies by the rulers of the Hindu Champa king­dom that con­trolled cen­tral and south­ern Viet­nam (the Chams were con­tem­po­raries of the Kh­mers who built Angkor Wat).

Need­ing sus­te­nance, I re­turn to the tourist area, where you can choose be­tween In­dian, Ar­me­nian, Russian or Ital­ian restau­rants if you wish – though for me a steam­ing bowl of pho is the best way to re­sus­ci­tate your­self af­ter sight­see­ing, or a strong Viet­namese cof­fee and baguette.

Af­ter­wards I wan­der down to­wards the beach­front, mind­ing the traf­fic, which is Viet­nam’s pe­cu­liar form of ve­hic­u­lar chaos, with ve­hi­cles reg­u­larly driv­ing the wrong way up dual car­riage­ways or on the wrong side of the road. Don’t wait for them to stop – they won’t; in­stead, walk slowly and con­fi­dently across the road, and al­low the mopeds and cars to flow around you – it’s un­nerv­ing at first but speeds are kept de­lib­er­ately low and the sys­tem seems to work.

Fronting the beach are dive shops – scuba div­ing in the ma­rine park is a pop­u­lar draw – and a mix of bars, restau­rants and clubs. The Rab­bit Hole night­club prom­ises “freak shows and go-go girls”, but the Sail­ing Club and Louisane Brew House are more high-class es­tab­lish­ments, boast­ing live mu­sic and DJs (Bob Mar­ley and UB40 are a com­mon mu­si­cal theme). Night-time can be rowdy as the hol­i­day­ing Rus­sians party hard.

I set­tle for a more serene late-af­ter­noon and evening pas­time, tak­ing an Ana­mar­ranged art tour with Nguyen Hong Van, who used to own a gallery in the down­town tourist area, but now works as a guide since rents there quadru­pled to US$1,500-2,500 per month, pric­ing lo­cal en­trepreneurs out of the mar­ket. (Van is now pre­par­ing her own home to be a gallery.)

We visit four lo­cal artists – all paint or sculpt through a need to express them­selves through their work. Sales are rare, but the work is ex­cel­lent; while ex-sol­dier Ngo Thai Binh pro­duces some­times tor­tured, some­times haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful out­pour­ings of his in­ner grief or dreams, Le Huynh paints ex­pres­sive land­scapes from his trav­els through­out his beloved coun­try.

Sculp­tor Bui trung Chinh uses un­usual ma­te­ri­als such as alu­minium sheets, which he beats into sym­bolic pic­tures of lo­cal life and fires to cre­ate colour tones in the metal, or ground ostrich egg “sand” fun­nelled onto in­tri­cate sketches of trans­par­ent glue to cre­ate vi­brant images. Then there’s hus­band and wife team Luu thanh Qua and Tran thi Bao Tran, who have man­aged to place some of their bois­ter­ously colour­ful work in ho­tels in Nha Trang – they sell from a few hun­dred US dol­lars up­wards to US$1,500, but Luu still works in the army to make ends meet.

Re­fresh­ingly, I no­tice that these Viet­namese artists switch styles with ease, mov­ing from ab­stract to clas­si­cal forms con­fi­dently. A con­sis­tent theme through­out is a bold and joy­ful use of colour in all the artworks we see – a re­flec­tion of the vi­brancy of the natural world in this lush trop­i­cal coun­try.

Clock­wise from far left: Ho­tels line Nha Trang beach; The Anam’s la­goon pool; Nha Trang Cathe­dral; lo­cal artists Luu thanh Qua and Tran thi Bao Tran; and the Po Na­gar Cham ru­ins

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