A beautiful bay, distant islands dotting the horizon, miles of white sand beaches and a ring of mountains protecting it’s city has made Nha Trang a tourist magnet, and rightfully so. This is a spectacular spot, a great place to hit the Vietnamese coastline and a good option for breaking up any journey through the country.
Nha Trang, meaning “white sand” in Vietnamese, is the perfect stopping point between Saigon and Hoi An if you are travelling overland but well worth the visit regardless of your route through Vietnam. Home of Dr. Alexandre Yersin, famous for his research on the bubonic plague, and in an unrelated agricultural sidenote, for introducing rubber trees into Indochina, Nha Trang has an interesting history. Known as ‘Kathura’ by the Cham people, Nha Trang was for many centuries part of the southern lands of the Champa kingdom, a mighty Hindu empire that stretched from an area near Hue all the way south to Phan Thiet. (The Champa Kingdom began to shrink around the 15th century under the weight of the ever expanding Vietnamese civilization. )
Why not go
Over the years as Nha Trang’s reputation has grown as a beach and party town, package tourists have come a running! Many visitors fly into Nha Trang for a brief holiday where their only aim is to drink the nights away. As such it isn’t the quietest of towns. Sadly many of these tourists, and their money, have attracted some less salubrious characters so watch your step in Nha Trang. If you’re not up for the development that tourism has brought to the town, particularly along the shoreline, there are other more authentic and pristine beach alternatives along Vietnam’s incredible coastline, including Phu Quoc Island.
There’s plenty on offer in Nha Trang to suit all appetites, likes and budgets! The weather is fantastic, particularly in the middle of the year. You can swim, snorkel, eat seafood, visit mud baths, art galleries and party and that’s just day one! If you are looking for local then Nha Trang is a great visit, from bbq lobster and cold beer on the street, to a buzzing local market there’s so much to see here if you can find a break from the tourists.
Just south of Nha trang at Cam Ranh bay is Asia’s largest deepwater shelter natural harbour.
Best time to go
Nha Trang is best some time between May and November, that is, outside of the rainy season as it’s hot and sunny. Regardless of when you visit, the beach is best enjoyed in the mornings before midday (the locals will be there from 5am to avoid the sun.) Around lunch the winds usually pick up and the water becomes less calm. During the rainy season the beach often looks, and is, dirty.
Where to stay
Hotel options vary enormously from private islands getaways to local backpacker $10 a night guesthouses. Only a few years ago Vinpearl island/hotel was completed with an enormous cable car linking the island to the mainland, it’s hard to miss!
Back on the mainland there’s hundreds of hotels to choose from to cater to all types of travelers. Many can be found on the main road (Tran Phu) fronting the beach. However if you step back a block and head down (Hung Vuong) there are many more (slightly cheaper) options.
If you are looking for a romantic getaway the Evason Ana Mandara hotel (Tran Phu street) is a must. Located right on the beach it’s an oasis of peace and tranquility, and a respite from the tourist masses.
Where to eat / dine
My favorite restaurant in Nha Trang is a smoky volcano bbq restaurant called Lac Canh (Nguyen Binh Khiem street). The fresh seafood is great but make sure you try the spring rolls – they are enormous!
The ambience and food at the sailing club (72-74 Tran Phu street) make it an excellent upmarket choice. Set right on the beach it’s a great place to go for sunset cocktails and dinner, but from about 8pm onwards it transforms into a beach party and nightclub.
If you wander down Biet Thu street (running away from the beach) there are some fantastic seafood restaurants and local bars. Some of the restaurants have fresh seafood on ice out the front which they will barbecue up for you with the sauce of your choice. Try Truc Linh 2 (corner of Biet Thu and Hung Vuong)
Again, there’s something to suit everyone in this party town. From beautiful sunset cocktails to dance clubs, local bars and even “bia hoi” options. There’s bound to be something in Nha Trang that’ll tickle your fancy.
The Sailing Club is a good option as is Guava bar which is just around the corner (17 Biet Thu.) However if you are after a different experience head on over to Crazy Kim’s bar (19 Biet Thu street), this place is unique. The premise of the bar is to help stop local children falling prey to the sex tourism industry. It’s a happening bar, plus it’s great that Crazy Kim (the manager/owner) is turning her profits into a way out for these children.
My to do list
– A boat trip out to the islands. A trip to Nha Trang would be incomplete without a day on the boat. Feast on a sumptuous seafood lunch, wander through a fishing village on one of the islands, ride in a conical (bamboo) basket and snorkel in crystal clear water … what more could you want in a day?!
– The mud baths (Thap Ba hot spring center). This is a fantastic and really enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Not as dirty as they sound, just north of town natural hot springs are mixed with some “therapeutic” mud to give you your very unique bathing experience. Great fun and an interesting way to spend an afternoon. Taxis will run you out there in about 15 mins but I’d highly recommend taking a cyclo ride out to the baths as it’s a fun way to see life on the streets.
– The Po Nagar (Cham tower) is a lovely well restored vestige of the Champa culture. Easily accessible from town Po Nagar rises above the Cai river offering gorgeous views over brightly colored fishing boats and Nha Trang in the background.
– Long Thanh’s black and white photo gallery (126 Hoang Van Thu street) Call first to make sure Long or his wife will be at his studio ( 824875) His photos are amazing, a little expensive but a great reminder of your trip to Vietnam. His gallery is definitely worth a visit if you are a photographer.
– Scuba diving. See rainbow divers (Biet Thu street)
Stay away from
The beach late at night. Sadly it is not the most savory of places, although it has been ‘cleaned up’ recently. There are often ‘ladies of the night’ about and they have been known to approach inebriated travelers and affectionately relieve them of wallets, cameras, passports etc. If you are heading out for a night on the town leave your valuables in your hotel safe and don’t walk along the beach alone at night, particularly after you’ve had a few drinks.
There are bus connections to all major destinations out of Nha Trang including south to Mui Ne, inland to Dalat and north to Quy Nhon and Hoi An. The train is another option which runs north – south and Nha Trang’s new (but small) domestic airport located about 30 kms south of town has flights to most major destinations in Vietnam.