Nha Trang, Vietnam
Walking along the footpath, hungry, I do what I often do. I see a menu displayed outside a restaurant and so I stop to see if it’s the kind of thing that takes my fancy.
There are lots of small street food options in Vietnam but they don’t normally have menus – just simply “Pho” or “Banh Mi” on a sign or a wall. If something is written down on paper, it’s normally for the benefit of tourists and written in English.
Which is why I get such a shock when I start to flick through this particular menu and can’t understand a single world. And that’s not because it’s written in Vietnamese. The whole thing is in Russian!
It’s something I come across again and again here in the coastal city of Nha Trang. Menus in Russian, signs in windows in Russian, even entire shopfronts printed in Russian.
It’s clear where the tourists in Nha Trang are coming from.
In fact, the Vietnamese coast has become extremely popular with Russian tourists. There are now more than 700 direct flights each year.
When the snow covers the motherland, they can escape to the sun and surf of an Asian playground. Last year, there were 200,000 visitors to Vietnam from Russia.
It is noticeable here in Nha Trang and at first I’m not sure what I think about it.
I ponder it for a while, turning it over in my head as I browse all the bottles of vodka for sale in the convenience store and smile at all the unnaturally blonde women wearing too much make up for the beach.
In some respects, it is no different than going to Bali and having everything written in English for Australians, or going to the Portuguese coast where mock English pubs have been built for the Brits.
You would find American chains in Cancun and all across the Caribbean.
I guess I don’t notice this as much, though, because I am an English speaker who has probably been brought up with similar Western influences.
It makes me feel more comfortable when I can read the menu or recognise a brand. So I can see how it must feel nice for the Russian tourists to get this sense in Nha Trang.
But, on the other hand, signs and menus in English are not necessarily out there just to help native speakers like Australians or British.
English is the lingua franca for travellers and people from plenty of countries know enough to find it useful. It stands out when something is in another language – it feels wrong, I’ve got to admit.
Development in Nha Trang
The beach at Nha Trang is nice – much nicer than I remember it from my last trip here about a decade ago.
The sand is relatively clean and the water refreshing. It’s not overly crowded and it’s close to hotels, bars and restaurants.
From the sand, I can see plenty of big developments going up. There’s a rush to get new hotels, even bigger than the ones that exist already, with hopes that more Russians will be coming in the next few years.
There is a slight problem – the recent fall in the value of the rouble is making it more expensive for people to travel overseas from Russia. However, Vietnam is so cheap that it’s not expected to have a major impact in the long term, just soften the numbers slightly for now.
In fact, a lot of the Russians who can afford to travel on family holidays – because there are clearly a lot of families here – have a fair bit of money.
You can also see the impact that’s having in Nha Trang. Prices for food in a lot of the restaurants are higher than in other parts of the country and much of the food on offer is at the more luxurious end (think lobster or tortoise!).
One morning, I’m sitting down by the beach looking out at the surf (it’s pretty small) when a sunglasses vendor comes up to me. These are the guys with huge boards filled with more than a hundred sunglasses that they carry over their shoulder.
We have a bit of a chat and he tells me about the Russian tourists. While Australians like me travel to a few places in Vietnam and just stay in Nha Trang for a matter of days, he says, the Russians will come here and stay for weeks – maybe even a month.
It doesn’t really bother him who comes and for how many days – as long as they buy sunglasses.
And, ultimately, I guess that’s the point. We, us tourists, are all guests here and we can’t expect anything to be any particular way.
If the local Vietnamese businesses choose to make certain nationalities welcome, that’s their right, and it’s actually quite nice in a way (even if it’s surely so they can make a bit more money).
I’ll just have to point at what I want to eat.
There are so many hotels and the prices change a lot with the seasons. Seaway Hotel often has great deals.
A cozy option (unlike all the big hotels) that's worth considering is Little Home Nha Trang Apartment.
But if you are after one of the big luxury hotels, your best bet is probably the Novotel.