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Experience the Authentic Culture of Nha Trang on a Countryside Drive and River Cruise

Experience the Authentic Culture of Nha Trang on a Countryside Drive and River Cruise


By avatar  Scott
Posted On 08/26/2019 16:38:09
Trip Date 03/12/2011  

Destinations | Cruises | Asia | Vietnam | Nha Trang | What to See in Vietnam | Pham Tours | Dung Pham | Vietnam Tour Guides | Tours of Nha Trang | Po Nagar Cham Towers



After departing from Tianjin, China, the port city nearest to Beijing, we sailed aboard the Diamond Princess. We cruised down the Asian coast spending one day each in the cities of Nagasaki, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Although saying our goodbyes to Japan and China were difficult, we were excited for our upcoming two ports of call in Vietnam. We took a break with our planning and joined a private tour in Nha Trang that another member of our Cruise Critic Roll Call had planned.

If you are considering cruises with destinations around Asia, this post will help you to answer the question about what to see in Vietnam. If you already started researching the port city of Nha Trang, you may already have some familiarity with the beaches as well as Po Nagar Cham Towers. A tour led by Dung Pham of Pham Tours is definitely one to consider to see both as well as much more. While there are certainly plenty of Vietnam tour guides offering tours of Nha Trang, we loved our small private tour which cost far less than those offered by the cruise line.



Nha Trang

People of all walks of life travel to the coastal city of Nha Trang located in southern Vietnam. It is best known for its beaches and for water related activities including scuba diving. Reachable by boat, several nearby islands are also highly sought after for their surrounding reef. Nha Trang is popular both with residents of the country of Vietnam as well as from the rest of the world. Getting to the Nha Trang Port following arrival into Nha Trang Bay requires a ride aboard a tender boat.


The Beach at Nha Trang

The Beach at Nha Trang

For visitors who desire seeing something other than the beach, Nha Trang is probably best known for the temple complex of Po Nagar Cham Towers. Near the temples, Thap Ba Hot Springs Spa and Mud Baths is quite popular for soaking. The resort of Vinpearl Island is popular with amusement park lovers. The resort also has both a water park and an aquarium. Finally, for those who love shopping, the Dam Market is the city's largest. (The market sits on what was previously a muddy pond. The peculiar word "dam" in Vietnamese is derived from the Dutch surname meaning to "live by a pond".)



Pham Tours

Born and raised in the city of Nha Trang, Dung Pham, the founder of Pham Tours, was the guide for our private day tour. Although we did not coordinate this group tour, the information passed down to our group indicated that Dung was very organized and prepared. On the day of our arrival, he met us as our tender was coming to shore, showed us an awesome day exploring his home town and returned us to the port as promised. We really enjoyed having a local guide who was able to answer questions and truly describe life in Nha Trang.

Just a short distance away from Nha Trang's beach front is the picturesque countryside dotted with palm trees, fruit orchards and irrigated rice paddies. Our tour allowed us to explore the country trails, town, village life, farms and pagodas giving us intriguing insight into the real lives of the everyday people of Vietnam. Dung customized a longer day tour for our group by combing the regularly offered countryside tour with a shorter river tour allowing us to see the best of both. We found it an amazing way to experience the real Vietnamese countryside while also enjoying a more leisurely cruise down the Cai River.



XQ Silk Hand Embroidery Picture

Knowing that our tour included a stop at a Silk Embroidery Factory, we both had visions of a large assortment of silk clothing available for sale. What a surprise we got upon our arrival at XQ Silk Hand Embroidery Picture when we witnessed young girls embroidering unbelievably intricate pictures on to silk.


Designing and Embroidering

Designing and Embroidering

Working at the Silk Embroidery Factory

Working at the Silk Embroidery Factory

From design to sewing, these women do it all, and many of these projects take months to complete. The time that we spent in the factory was almost like walking through a museum. Every one of the finished works looked like paintings, but all were done with embroidery thread on silk. There were even some amazing two sided works with completely different images on each side.


Stacy Admiring an Embroidered Panel

Stacy Admiring an Embroidered Panel

It's Embroidery . . . not a Painting!

It's Embroidery . . . not a Painting!

In addition to designing and creating intricate and exquisitely embroidered items, the factory also offers the handcrafted silk items for sale.



Lac Tho Pagoda Orphanage

Our entire private tour group was excited (and prepared) for our visit to the Lac Tho Pagoda Orphanage. In addition to taking a tour of the orphanage, we were able to spend some time playing with the youngsters.


Lac Tho Pagoda Orphanage

Lac Tho Pagoda Orphanage

Buddha at Lac Tho Pagoda Orphanage

Buddha at Lac Tho Pagoda Orphanage

Abandoned, orphaned and street children as young as just a few months old and up to the age of nine are cared for by Buddhist nuns and volunteers. The volunteers strive to provide necessities that many people take for granted such as a safe and caring home and meals for nourishment. While at the orphanage, the children also receive healthcare and schooling.


Girls at the Orphanage

Girls at the Orphanage

Prior to leaving home, our small tour group communicated by email and decided to band together to bring some small gifts to the orphanage. In addition to some essentials like school supplies, we brought some toys hoping to bring a little more joy into the life of these children. Needless to say, they were happy to see us.


Children Excited about Guests

Children Excited about Guests

A Loving Child at the Orphanage with Scott

A Loving Child at the Orphanage with Scott

Rush Mat Weaving

Our drive took us through some flat rice fields on our way to a rural village. Our short visit gave us the opportunity to interact with local people as they went about their daily lives. We learned a little about their income sources which included farming as well as other creative home industries.


Rice Fields in Nha Trang

Rice Fields in Nha Trang

Walking along a path led us to the home of one extended family who makes their income from the reeds which grow abundantly in the surrounding area. Rush Mat Weaving also called Sedge Mat Weaving is an art practiced by this group of village people. Two family members work together and are able to weave about four mats throughout each of their working days. They trade the mats for essentials including food at the local market.


Sedge Mat Weaving

Sedge Mat Weaving

Vietnamese Country House

Before leaving this small village, we were invited to see an example of an ancient home laid out with the traditional floor plan. With many ancestors living and worshiping together, most homes have a family altar. The shrine of the ancestors is said to be their kitchen! We each even sampled some of the tropical fruits from the nearby fruit orchard.


Fresh Fruit from the Orchard

Fresh Fruit from the Orchard

Conical Hat Making Village

When you picture a typical Vietnamese person in your mind, what are they wearing on their head? If you are like many people, they are likely wearing a cone-shaped hat made of straw with a silk chin strap. Our visit to a Conical Hat Making Village allowed us to see another tradition which has withstood the test of time in Vietnam.


Beautiful Vietnamese Girl

Beautiful Vietnamese Girl

Making these hats is a manual process but one that requires skill. Conical hats are made from thin strings of dried bamboo and are nearly always produced by women. Sewing, and even sometimes decorating the hats, requires tiny and evenly spaced hand stitching. A steady hand plus lots of time and patience are certainly a part of each hat produced.


First Stages of Creating a Conical Hat

First Stages of Creating a Conical Hat

Conical Hat Weaving

Conical Hat Weaving

Rice Paper Making Factory

Rice paper is a staple used for making rice paper rolls and spring rolls throughout all of Vietnam. A stop at a Rice Paper Making Factory allowed us to see the production of this popular food in action. Steamed rice is processed into very thin and flat ("paper-like") pieces. The pieces of rice paper are then placed on bamboo racks and left outside to dry from the heat of the sun. Once the rice paper is ready for use, it is sold in local inns and shops.


Inside the Rice Paper Making Factory

Inside the Rice Paper Making Factory

Working at the Rice Paper Factory

Working at the Rice Paper Factory

Rice Paper Drying on the Dusty Road

Rice Paper Drying on the Dusty Road

We found it humorous that the rice paper sheets, nicely laid out on bamboo racks, are left along the roadsides for drying. The roads all over this area of Nha Trang are filled with moving motorcycles, buses and other vehicles. Since the roads are dirt or gravel, the moving traffic kicks up dust and dirt which has to settle all over the drying rice paper sheets that are later used for food!



Charcoal Stove Making Village

Although some families do use gas cookers, nearly every home in Nha Trang has a charcoal stove. Our next stop was at a Charcoal Stove Making Village. Hundreds of small cooking stoves were either already completed or in the process of being made from clay right before our eyes.


Creating a Charcoal Stove by Hand

Creating a Charcoal Stove by Hand

Vietnamese Charcoal Stoves

Vietnamese Charcoal Stoves

Lunch and Cai River Cruise

Before cruising on the Cai River, we enjoyed a traditional Vietnamese lunch with a view. Our lunch was served at an open-air restaurant sitting on the banks of the river. As we dined, we watched the boat on which we would soon travel making its way down the river to dock alongside the restaurant.


Lunch in Nha Trang

Lunch in Nha Trang

With full stomachs, we boarded the riverboat for a comfortable and relaxing cruise along one of Nha Trang's largest rivers, the Cai River. In addition to the rice paddies, orchards and other scenery along the banks of the river, we saw fishermen out in their boats. Observing the peaceful life of locals on both sides of the river was a nice change of pace!


Leaving our Lunch Restaurant

Leaving our Lunch Restaurant

Cruising on the Cai River

Cruising on the Cai River

The Banks of the Cai River

The Banks of the Cai River

Po Nagar Cham Towers

Built between the seventh and twelfth centuries, Po Nagar Cham Towers are located on Mount Cu Lao. It is believed that the most beautiful of the towers were built between the years 813 and 817. The towers originally stood high up on an isolated rock formation at the entrance to the Cai River. As the flow of the river changed over time, the rock foundation became a part of the land forming the river bank today.


Po Nagar Cham Towers

Po Nagar Cham Towers

The Top of Po Nagar Cham Towers

The Top of Po Nagar Cham Towers

Historical Statue at Po Nagar Cham Towers

Historical Statue at Po Nagar Cham Towers

With temple settlements in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, the Cham people, who once ruled central Vietnam, are known for both their architecture and their sculpturing skills. The four remaining red brick towers are what remains of ten original buildings which were each a shrine to a different deity.



Visitors to this example of Cham architecture can also enjoy an excellent panoramic view of the river and surrounding area.


View from Po Nagar Cham Towers

View from Po Nagar Cham Towers

View of the River from Po Nagar Cham Towers

View of the River from Po Nagar Cham Towers

Cho Dam Market

As is common for many a tour which we've taken, a stop at a local market is included. While having a market stop is typical, seeing different markets around the world is somehow always very interesting! The Cho Dam Market in Nha Trang is the biggest in town - both in size as well as the number of people who visit. The market has been operating since 1974 and is the most popular place for locals to do business. On some days the Cho Dam Market opens as early as 4:00 AM and usually remains open until 6:00 PM.


Bringing Goods to the Dam Market

Bringing Goods to the Dam Market

Although the market is housed in a three story building, the stalls of the vendors offering produce, seafood and meat are mostly located around the outside perimeter of the market. Similar to grocery and department stores, most items are grouped into departments, so if you know what you are looking for it's easier to find.


Fruit for sale at Dam Market

Fruit for sale at Dam Market

For those just interested in "looking" for the experience, there is plenty to see. In addition to food, flowers, typical tourist souvenirs and locally handcrafted items, even counterfeit or knock-off items including clothes, footwear, watches and handbags are available. While much harder to take home for those on a cruise ship or traveling via plane, the market also sells appliances, hardware and parts for motorcycles (the most common means of transportation for the locals).


Motorcycles on the Roads of Nha Trang

Motorcycles on the Roads of Nha Trang

If you find something that you must have, you'll probably want to haggle a little bit on the price since the market is such a popular tourist destination.



Cruising China and Southeast Asia

Our next port of call was also in Vietnam, just a little further south in Ho Chi Minh City. We hired an outstanding guide who, along with a driver, helped us to explore the best of his home city in just a days time.


Awesome Sunset on our Nha Trang Sailaway

Awesome Sunset on our Nha Trang Sailaway

A subscription to our weekly e-mail notifications will ensure that you don't miss out on the upcoming ports of call from our Asian odyssey. You will receive no more than one e-mail per week which will alert you as additional travel posts are published. It's quick and easy to subscribe at Wordy Explorers User Account by completing the form.



If the cruise that you are considering has a planned port day in Hong Kong, be sure to read about the day that we spent exploring Hong Kong on our own. Titled Seeing the Best of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon in One Day, you'll find sightseeing ideas for both sides of Victoria Harbor. Along with a description and photos of some of our favorite sites, we've included ideas for getting around Hong Kong.

Visiting Vietnam

If you were to make a recommendation to someone wanting to visit Vietnam for the first time, what cities would you suggest that they consider and why?


Experience the Authentic Culture of Nha Trang on a Countryside Drive and River Cruise






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Created On 01/07/2019 17:07:19  
Updated On 09/17/2019 16:49:43
Scheduled On 08/01/2019 21:38:09
Posted On 08/26/2019 16:38:09
Last Editor Stacy
Location  Po Nogar Cham Towers, Nha Trang
LinkId  NhaTrangAsia5
StoryId  1546898839622





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