Cruising the Turquoise Coast of Nha Trang

nha trang

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Last August, I lead a group of European travel professionals on their "fam" trip, which had been sponsored by Vietnam Airlines. Arranged by a local DMC, the trip was set to explore the southern-central coast of Nha Trang for a three night stay in different resorts while cruising on the bay. Stunning scenery? Absolutely. Good company? Included. History? Surrounded by it. Excellent food? All the time. Romance? Definitely. Shimmering sea? Just dive in. Bliss? No extra charge. Nha Trang has been voted as one of the 29 most beautiful bays in the world by Travel and Leisure.

As a travel professional, it is not the first time I have been to Nha Trang, and I am quite familiar with the tourism scene here. While many fishing boats have been converted to tour boats in Nha Trang Bay, we were immediately impressed by the quality of Emperor Cruises Nha Trang. Luckily, we got to experience both the Nha Trang discovery day cruise, as well as the romantic sunset cocktail cruise.

Our group was greeted at 8:30 am at the lobby of our hotel and transferred to Nha Trang International Port, where we were welcomed aboard with a traditional drum beat. The boat is magnificently decked out in a style befitting an emperor. Ornate wooden furniture was present throughout, and the walls were adorned with colorful oil paintings from world renowned Vietnamese artist, Pham Luc.

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The cruise manager welcomed us with smiles and introduced us to the boat, the safety procedures, and the staff who gave us a brief insight into the concept of Emperor Cruises. We learned that in an effort to re-imagine the cruise experience and offer something different to the thousands of tourists who sail on Nha Trang Bay each day, Emperor Cruises has aimed to set the standard.

Inspired by the lavish lifestyle of Emperor Bao Dai, the last Emperor of Vietnam, the stunning boat is designed to reflect the style of the 1930’s aristocracy. This tour really is the place for the most sophisticated travelers to enjoy Vietnamese culture, history and gourmet cuisine. On the ship, royal glamor and heritage combine to create the epitome of elegance.

As the boat sets out, it glides effortlessly through calm seas as it heads towards the first stop at Hon Mieu Island. A speedboat takes the guests on the short, smooth ride over to the island which has some 3000 inhabitants. Despite all the modern advances seen in Nha Trang City, the locals here still have no access to clean running water, and it must be ferried in each day for consumption. It is however, a thriving community made up of generational fishing families. During a forty minute tour, guests can meet the locals and watch them at work making the iconic "basket boats" used to get around the island’s waters.

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Just off the coast lies numerous floating sea farms that cultivate a variety of marine delicacies which are sold to mainland restaurants. Arriving in traditional basket boats, guests are ferried across to the various platforms. Each farm is home to a colorful assortment of creatures including moray eels, crabs, lobster, grouper, stingrays and black kingfish, each in various stages of development. Nearby, a group of young ladies are busy at work creating the hundreds of nets that are used to catch and contain the fish, and they happily show you their impressive weaving skills as they expertly fashion the material. The trip to Hon Mieu is a fascinating insight into island culture in Vietnam, and as the speedboat takes you back to the Emperor Boat, you can capture some fantastic photos of the isle receding into the distance.

Back aboard, the day continues as you head towards the Emperor's Secret Beach. Here, privacy is the main attraction. The landscape is breathtaking; think a white sand beach, turquoise waters and the cruise ship bobbing in the distance. Sun bathers are strewn across the sand, and a small beach bar serves refreshing cocktails and drinks. Snorkeling gear is also provided to allow you to head out into the shallow waters, which are filled with a colorful array of soft corals and small fish. You can also take one of the transparent, glass-bottomed kayaks to paddle further from the shore and bask in the sunshine. The island offers ample opportunity for trekking as well, with a few well-defined paths that travel inland through the brush.

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Scuba diving in Nha Trang is one of the most unforgettable experiences one could have in Vietnam. The seabed in Mun Islet has high biological diversity, and contains a huge number of interesting sea creatures, including 350 species of coral that accounts for over 40 percent of all the hard coral species in the world. Mun Island was developed as the first protected marine area in Vietnam. There are many beautiful places for diving in Nha Trang, but Mun Island is the preferred destination due to its excellent location.

After all this activity, the group was taken back to the boat for an incredible nine course meal that mirrors the cuisine consumed by the late Emperor Bao Dai. This is fine dining at its most luxurious; the backdrop of the islands, the artfully designed dining room and the gentle movement of the sea all combine to create an atmosphere of pure elegance. The waiter presented each course with a brief history of its origins, and the cooking methods used by the chefs maintained the historical authenticity of the dish.

First up was the local delicacy, Bird’s Nest Soup. Made from the nests of the indigenous Salangange Swiftlet birds, it has long been considered the food of kings, and is known for its excellent health benefits. The soup was served in a ceramic pot over a flickering candle, and was both light and delicious. This was followed by entrées of a zesty, sour mango salad, rice paper rolls packed with fresh vegetables and herbs, and wonderful steamed tiger prawns in coconut juice. Each serving was a delight to the senses, combining vivid colors, tastes, aromas and the textural contrasts so important in Vietnamese cuisine.

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The main courses were quick to follow, and represent local ‘land and sea’ produce of crispy dragon fish, stir-fried ostrich in pepper and deep-fried squid with fish sauce. The dishes were impeccably presented, and while a nine course meal may seem a little over-indulgent (especially with the free flowing wine), each portion is light, and not at all overwhelming. A platter of fresh, seasonal fruit and a sweet lotus soup helped to complete the feast and cleanse the palette before we moved to the outer deck to take in the sunshine.

In 2016, Hue and Nha Trang became known as two destinations in Vietnam on the rise according to Trip Advisor, and Nha Trang was chosen as one of official venues for APEC 2017. The infrastructure is improving; the airport is expanding with new flight connections regionally and internationally, and more branded hotels and resorts are being established. With 300 days of sunshine per year, Nha Trang has been a top location for both domestic and international tourists for many years. The region is also popular with day visitors because of its delightful beach, which is considered the most beautiful in Vietnam. With a deep blue sea and seemingly endless white sand, it's a perfect recipe for exploration, luxury adventures, enchantment, relaxation and memorable experiences.

Pham Ha

Pham Ha is an award-winning travel entrepreneur who has been featured on the Forbes, Robb Report, TTG Asia...He has worked in the travel industry for over 20 years, traveled extensively to 60 countries, and become a luxury tourism expert and keynote speaker in the luxury travel industry, in Vietnam and across the globe. His personal mission is to deliver happiness. Ha is also a very passionate aut...(Read More)

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