Bolstered by old military ties, Nha Trang lures Russians tourists

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 Anton Novoselov and his wife Elena Dzyuba (left) at their Check-point restaurant in Nha Trang. Photos by Nguyen Chung

Traditionally familiar to Russians due to their country's wartime alliance with Vietnam, more recently Nha Trang has become "a little Russia," with many Russian visitors feeling comfortable enough to settle down.

Many shops in the central resort town now have Russian signboards, tour guides and drivers, while even ordinary residents are learning to speak Russian an adaptation to the wave of visitors.

Tuyet, a sandwich vendor on Nguyen Thien Thuat Street in downtown Nha Trang, said she does not know a single Russian word, but asked her niece to help her make a sign advertising beef and omelet sandwiches in Russian to place in front of her shop.

"Since I added the sign, I've received a lot more Russian customers. I just have to remember how the words look when they point at one," she said.

A 47-year-old Russian tourist named Mokretcova said the Russian signboards make her and her compatriots feel comfortable as they enable them to shop on their own.

Nha Trang became known to Russians when the Russian Navy began using Cam Ranh port in 1979, making it Russia's biggest Naval base outside its territory. The relationship persisted until 2002.

Cam Ranh was turned from a military port into a civil one used by Vietnamese in 2004, but recent agreements have allowed Russia to come back to invest in a shipyard, a submarine base, and a 5-star resort for Russian military officers.   

A former Russian marine, Anton Novoselov, moved to Nha Trang after completing his military service and now runs a restaurant there with his Russian wife, Elena Dzyuba.

The couple even speak a fair amount of Vietnamese.

Dzyuba said she learned Vietnamese as a schoolgirl after hearing good things about the country she did not visit until 2009.

She met her husband at the airport after he had already opened the restaurant on Nguyen Thien Thuat Street.

They got married early this month. She is an assistant at his restaurant, Check-point, which is decorated with photos of Soviet soldiers and weapons, while actual military memorabilia such as soldiers' hats, clothes, shoes and medals serve as table-side decorations.

Waiters at Check-point also dress like Russian soldiers.

Novoselov said he returned to Nha Trang in 2007 as a tourist and decided to "call it home."

His was one of the first Russian restaurants in town, he said.

In their free time, the couple enjoys eating Vietnamese food. "I especially love fried spring rolls and water spinach stir-fried with garlic," said Dzyuba.

Official figures showed that Russian tourists to Nha Trang have been increasing, representing 83,000 of the 532,000 foreign tourists to go there last year. More than 20,000 Russians arrived in Nha Trang during the first two months this year.

Their numbers peaked from November to April, with between 540 and 600 Russians landing at Cam Ranh International Airport each day, with around 70 percent of them then heading to Nha Trang, which is located just 30 kilometers away, local data showed.

Nguyen Van Thanh, director of the Khanh Hoa Tourism Promotion and Information Center, said Nha Trang is not only a part of Russian history, but it is also attractive in contemporary times due to the presence of one of the world's best bays, the Cham temples, waterfalls and hot springs, as well as the affordable prices for services.

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