This idyllic area is emerging as one of Vietnam’s top beach resorts. Just like the food, Jeffrey Simpson finds it perfectly to his taste. Check out his review on inews.co.uk :
Hoa Le is leading a Vietnamese cookery lesson when he pauses to emphasise two things every visitor to the South-east Asian country should do.
“The first thing – try the food,” Le, the 28-year-old restaurant manager of The Anam resort on the Cam Ranh peninsula says. “The second thing is, you try to cross the street. Because in Vietnam we have lots of motorbikes and it’s an adventure.”
Thankfully, the bustle associated with the country’s densely populated cities seems a world away from this peaceful stretch of tropical coastline in central Vietnam.
So I’ll get my fill of frenetic activity later – for now I’m focusing on the food as Le takes me step-by-step through the preparation of several typical dishes, including spring rolls, lemongrass chicken and, of course, the national dish – pho, noodle soup.
Le explains that Vietnamese cooking is about achieving a “ying-yang” quality. “We make every meal balanced – not too sweet, not too salty, not too spicy. Everything is combined and you feel better.”
But there are regional variations. “The people in the north enjoy their food a little bit lighter than in the centre and the south,” Le says. “The people in the south like sweet and they put more sugar in. And in the centre we like spicy.”
While Vietnam has been increasingly open to tourism since economic reforms in the mid-1980s and dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s – with a notable surge this decade – Cam Ranh has remained largely less travelled and less developed. Choosing between lounging at one of the Anam’s pools or the beach is one of the most difficult dilemmas facing visitors to Cam Ranh
But the area, where the US established an air and naval base during the Vietnam War, has been slowly opening to visitors; with its turquoise shores and more than 300 days of sunshine a year, it’s an idyllic sanctuary far removed from the era of military combat. These days it can feel like you have the place to yourself.
When I emerge from my hotel suite at 8am the next day, the sun has already muscled its way into the sky and is burning strongly. I wander through clusters of palm trees to The Anam’s 300 metres of powdery-sand beachfront and enjoy the gentle surf without a person in sight.
The Anam opened last spring as one of only a handful of boutique resorts. Several sprawling hotels under construction in the distance suggest this solitary swim might not be possible in a few years.
Later that afternoon I stroll up the beach – aptly called Bai Dai, or Long Beach – and encounter nobody. A few translucent man o’ wars as big as my head lie stranded in the sand while small crabs scurry across my path.
After about 20 minutes, I arrive at a cluster of rudimentary bamboo beach huts where women are grilling seafood on small barbecues, makeshift shops are selling inflatable beach toys and vendors are hawking drinks out of portable coolers.
A teenager floats on his stomach in the shallow water as a puppy scampers around on his back trying to stay dry. Some children are digging a hole big enough for them to hide in. Ask a local… “There are a lot of beautiful mountains in the area. My friend just opened a motocross business and they do a lot of tours up in the mountains – the scenery is incredible.” TOM LOWTON bar manager
Unlike the resort’s foreign holidaymaker crowd, here it’s all smiling Vietnamese families and teenage couples frolicking in the waves or sitting around on the sand.
There’s a sign fashioned out of a surfboard in front of one place, fittingly called The Shack, and I wander in for a beer that’s served with ice cubes because the bartender has just restocked the fridge and the bottles are warm – but so is the welcome I receive from Tom Lowton, who runs the place, so I don’t mind.
“I originally came here to learn how to scuba dive,” Lowton, a 25-year-old from Hexham, near Newcastle, tells me. “I had just finished school and was out here on a gap year and I pretty much fell in love with the place.”
He stuck around for about six years working at dive centres before taking over at The Shack, where he also organises diving and snorkelling excursions among the coral reefs and underwater caves in the clear waters around Nha Trang and Cam Ranh.
But there’s more to do around here than just be a beach bum. I head 30 minutes up the coast to the booming resort city of Nha Trang, where you can try that crossing-the-street thing as hundreds of incessantly honking motorbikes, cars and trucks almost impossibly miss pedestrians and each other while careening around. I set out on what is, at times, a white-knuckle ride on a Vespa through the cacophony for a tour of some artists’ studios.
One stop is at the gallery of Mai Loc, whose monochrome photographs of scenes of daily life in the country have won him awards. As a child he’d had to work as a coffee smuggler and gold miner to help his mother. He was a cyclo-taxi driver in 1995 when he met a Norwegian couple who later gave him a camera as a gift.
While taking tourists on sightseeing tours into the countryside, he taught himself how to take photos and has since made a successful career of it, something he hadn’t thought possible as a child.
“It is very important for tourists that they should read and learn about the history and culture of Vietnam,” Loc, 51, says. “It’s not just bar, beach and bed.”
On the last night night of my trip I revisit Nha Trang, where I sip drinks while enjoying the panoramic view of the coastline from the open-air 43rd floor of the Skylight nightclub amid throbbing music and an international clientele.
Just like the country’s cuisine, my visit to Cam Ranh has had a ying-yang quality to it.
When to go
The best time to visit the central coast of Vietnam is between February and August, when the weather is warm and almost every day has sunshine. There’s a risk of typhoons from August to November.
How to get there
Vietnam Airlines (vietnamairlines.com ) operates the UK’s only nonstop scheduled services to Vietnam, with daily Dreamliner flights from Heathrow to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Return fares start at £464. Internal return fares between Hanoi/Ho Chi Minh City and Cam Ranh Nha Trang airport start at £37.
Where to stay
The Anam has 117 villas, 96 rooms and suites, three swimming pools and a spa on a well-manicured site. Double rooms from £147 per night (theanam.com). Most people combine a trip with a stopover in Ho Chi Minh City, where The Reverie Saigon is a top option. Rooms start from £258 B&B (thereveriesaigon.com).
Where to eat
The Anam has several restaurants with different themes, but all are excellent. The Indochine and Lang Viet overlook swimming pools and the beachfront and serve classic Vietnamese dishes such as pho and stewed pork belly. The Colonial is the property’s fine-dining restaurant that focuses on classic French cuisine with wine pairings. The Shack serves a variety of Vietnamese and Western dishes on Long Beach (shackvietnam.com).
What to see
Tours of Nha Trang and its attractions, including the Art Tour, can be booked via Nha Trang Vespa Tours (nhatrangvespatour.com). Scuba and snorkelling tours can be booked via The Shack (shackvietnam.com).
Until June 2021, British passport-holders can visit Vietnam visa-free for up to 15 days (vietnamtourism.com)