We thought it would be a good idea to stay a few days in Nha Trang and then a few days in Phan Rang to see which city we’d prefer as our base. But once again we have learnt that planning too far ahead is a nonsense :-). You probably read the story about how Lilly and Alex broke their wrists. This meant we were stuck in Nha Trang for over a week. The city was really boring so as soon as their pain (or the lack of it) allowed, we packed everything, hopped on our newly rented bikes and rode south to Phan Rang. It came recommended to us as a less touristy place with lots of good food, white sandy beaches, dunes, and perfect kitesurfing conditions! How could we not go? 🙂
According to Wikipedia, Phan Rang is a home to almost 200,000 people. To be honest, if we haven’t read it and you’d have asked us, we would probably have guessed that it houses no more than 20,000 people (it’s probably because it’s spread over almost 80 square km).
First, we had to face some accommodation challenges: browsing through Booking.com day before our trip, we found a hotel that looked just perfect but its cancellation policy was rather strict. As it was saying 4 rooms were available, we decided not to make the reservation but to check it out first. It was pretty late when we arrived in Phan Rang (riding 100km on scooters really hurts and requires frequent stops :-)) and we soon discovered that our friend was not lying when he said that Vietnamese people travel a lot, especially for weekends. The hotel of our choice was packed and the owners of the low budget accommodation next door (you can easily spot these by their name – nhà nghỉ) freaked out when they heard English and just shook their heads to let us know we cannot stay there :-D. The last option was a fancy-looking Seaside hotel at the beach. To our surprise, it opened just recently and their rates were VERY affordable – they charged us around $21 for a family room that was spacious and clean. The staff was friendly, coffee delicious, beds comfortable – no wonder we ended up staying for 9 days!
Overall impression: slightly positive (well, being attacked by a guy with a brick left a bitter taste in our mouths).
- The city is rather quiet and is not flooded with foreign (mainly Russian) tourists. Although every Friday, it fills up with the local ones coming to enjoy their weekend at the beach.
- It is really windy here which makes it a perfect kitesurfing spot. There is a great kitesurfing center only a few kilometers up north. The spot’s biggest advantage is the shallow flat-water lagoon spreading over 200m from the shore where it is bordered by a coral reef. If wave riding is something you prefer, just go past the reef and you get what you need. We had at least five days with of pretty strong wind that was challenging even with a 7m kite.
- Another cool thing about kitesurfing spots is that they attract a really varied mixture of people from all over the world. Once you filter out the young kids that party through the night and even then are able to perform rather extreme kitesurfing tricks (yes, that is pure envy you hear), you are left with a group of some really interesting and fun people – a crowd of guys from Israel that helped us to get to know this new place, Canadian girl Theresa that our kids fell in love with and our fellow countrymen Nina and Pavel, which we really hope to meet again in Prague or anywhere else on the road.
- The food was amazing, like everywhere in Vietnam. Every morning, we enjoyed bánh căn right next to our hotel. Right on the beach were two seafood restaurants, where we could fill our tummies with fresh clams, fish, oysters, shrimps etc. Unfortunately, most of the street food stands were in the city center which was around 15 minutes on our scooters. But the food was well worth the travel :-).
- Climate is a bit different than what we were used to in Bali. The nights here can be “cold” (30°C during the day and 23°C in the night). Yeah, yeah: we are spoiled. But in Bali, it would be 30°C vs 28°C. It might not seem that way, but it’s quiet a difference. Well, we’ll need to toughen up again. 😀
- Beaches have fine white sand and are mostly free of litter. Water is not crystal clear (mainly due to the fine sand) but it is warm and when you swim, you are not being attacked by plastic bags. So, thumbs up!
- Apart from the things below, there is not much to do. So unless you’re a water sport fanatic or a beach potato, this place is perfect for a week or so. There’s nothing really special in the city or its vicinity. If you have any other tips on what to do there, please share them with us. Something is telling us that we will return to this kitesurfing paradise :-).
What to do in Phan Rang:
Buddhist temple with unpronounceable name
This Buddhist complex is called Thiền viện Trúc Lâm Viên Ngộ and is comprised of approximately ten buildings of various sizes and purposes. It is Phan Rang’s main attraction and worth your visit. Apart from traditional Buddhist décor (with a touch of Vietnamese style), you’ll be blown away by the amazing views its location offers.
Trip to these sand dunes was the highlight of our Phan Rang stay. The ride was only 30–45 minutes and at the end, we had to wade through some deep sand. Sometimes it meant bringing together the strength of all family members to push the motorcycles out of the sand drifts. But don’t give up and keep going until you reach the fisherman huts (there were two if I remember correctly). They are surrounded by trees which provide well needed shade. You can also look for our geocache there. You will need its coordinates N 11° 23,499′ E109° 0,327′, resp. 11°23’30” N, 109°0’20” E because we were not able to add it to the official geocaching site. They require someone to maintain the cache which is (for obvious reasons) impossible for us (hopefully it will still be there for those of you who are trying to find it).
Make sure to stay away from the alluring ponds with crystal clear water. We didn’t get to swim in them because the sinking sand kinda stopped us from going in :-D. We only made it to the pond bank! But the kids LOVED it and wouldn’t stop talking about being almost devoured by quicksand :-)!
The ocean is another natural attraction near the dunes. It lures you to cool down in its waters and the temptation grows exponentially with the time spent walking through the hot sand. Unfortunately, the waves were pretty wild during our visit, and, to be honest, the trash-covered beaches kinda killed the moment.
Few other things to see
As we said before, there is not much to do. But these are some other sights worth a visit:
Tháp Po Ro Me, a Cham temple on a hill. Not an unforgettable experience but the road and “hike” up was nice. Also the views from the top are pretty neat. We didn’t get to go inside because the key-keeper had a visit and was too busy to go up the steps and open the door with a really cool lock (keyhole had the stylish shape of a swastika).
Khu Di Tích 3 Tháp is a complex of three Cham towers (only two standing). They are right next to a highway and in a rather sorry state. But the trip there was still nice.
From the tower complex, we wanted to visit another temple – Tháp Pô Klông-Giarai. But the Universe had different plans for us and we ended up being lost inside a military base (you can read about our adventure here). When we finally got out, it was too late and we were exhausted and hungry :-). Maybe next time, then!
See more in the gallery: