Nha Trang on the south coast of Vietnam has been luring beach lovers from all over the world for years.
The waves lap seductively at the shore along four and a half kilometres of white sandy beach that curves gently around a wide bay. Cocooned by islands close by to the east and mountains to the west, this touch of paradise is protected from the severe weather that torments other parts of Southeast Asia.
Life here is all about sun, sea and sand, and with heaps of opportunities for adventure on the doorstep, and the freshest of seafood straight from ocean to plate, it’s well worth adding Nha Trang to your itinerary as you journey up or down the Vietnamese coast.
Enjoy this Nha Trang travel guide.
From the 3rd century the region around modern Nha Trang was known as Kauthara, and was part of the Champa Kingdom.
All that remains from the period are the stunning Po Nagar towers. Named after a local goddess, they sit where the river meets the sea. Believed to have been constructed between the 7th and 12th centuries, the complex gives you a glimpse of a rich historical heritage.
During the period of French rule of Indochina, the French found the perfect spot for a seaside retreat – stringing a handful of small villages together to form Nha Trang. While you won’t find the same density of French colonial architecture here as in Hanoi, there are plenty of interesting remnants – particularly around Dam Market.
Motorbikes and mopeds are part of the local culture and a great way to get around.
It’s possible to hire a bike but check your travel insurance policy to make sure you’re covered, as Australian licences are not recognised in Vietnam. Cyclos (a seat on the front of a push bike) allow someone else to do the legwork. Set the price before you jump in.
Long Sơn Pagoda is the largest Buddhist pagoda in Nha Trang. The stunning twenty-four metre tall white Buddha glows in the sun as it sits watching over the city. Allow one of the resident monks to guide you to the tombs at the top of an almost hidden side stairway. Note that the main building and some other areas are closed between 11.30am and 1pm.
Afterwards, walk back to the beach via Nha Trang Cathedral, where everyone is welcome at morning or afternoon mass (Vietnam is home to the second largest catholic community in Southeast Asia).
The cafe culture in Nha Trang rivals that of Sydney or Melbourne and it’s perfectly acceptable to BYO snacks and sit for ages lingering over a cup of coffee and talking with friends. Served in individual drip filters, hot water oozes through freshly ground coffee to form the perfect espresso. Forget skinny caps and lattes – add sweetened condensed milk and sugar to taste or leave it black before pouring over ice. SV cafe is very local and sits opposite the beach in a courtyard under the trees and umbrellas. Drop into Breadtalk and grab some pastries and sandwiches to create your own high tea.
Each local chef closely guards their recipe for pho (pronounced ‘fur’) – the quintessential Vietnamese noodle soup.
Add your own touches with sprouts, chilli and herbs. The cafe at the Long Sơn Pagoda serves one of the best in town.
Vietnamese sandwiches (Bánh Mì) are a taste sensation. Towards the northern end of the beach, take Lê Lói Street back two blocks and buy one from the street stall at the roundabout. The pork layered onto a fresh baguette with any number of accompaniments is simply delicious.
Each morning the organic juice bar at the Sailing Club offers innovative juices and smoothies to compliment their perfect eggs Benedict. Keep up with ‘The Kardashian’ – mint, celery and cucumber. You can easily settle in here for the day. As the sun sets on weekdays, bean bags are scattered on the sand and kerosene lamps give a bedouin feel. Saturdays, the Sailing Club’s beach party is the place to be.
You can watch the fishing boats head out to sea each morning, returning later in the day to stock the tanks on display at restaurants lining the boardwalk. If Thuy 66 on Trân Phú Street seems full, walk in anyway. Tables and chairs will appear as they attempt to squeeze you in. Sea snails may sound unappealing, however when steamed with lemongrass, chilli and ginger they are sensational. There’s a keg of local beer pouring out glass after glass to wash it all down.
At Nha Trang View Restaurant the waves crash below as you sit up on the rocks. It gets the full force of the morning sun, so go in the afternoon and relax on the terrace with a cool drink, looking back at one of the best views in the city.
For a special occasion, nothing compares with a private table set up on the jetty which juts out over the water at the Evason Ana Mandara resort. Surprise your partner with a romantic dinner under the stars, surrounded by flaming torches.
Dam Market is the biggest in town and sells pretty much everything.
You may not recognise some of the fruit and vegetables stacked up under the umbrellas, however all will be revealed by enrolling in a local cooking class. Lanterns Vietnamese Restaurant offers a fun class, or if just the eating is more your thing, their street food tour will introduce you to some of the amazing local specialties
Vietnamese coffee is fragrant and delicious. Weasel Coffee is the most expensive in the world. The beans are roasted after passing through the civet cat’s digestive system. If that hasn’t turned you off completely, you can buy the beans at supermarkets to see what all the fuss is about.
Amber and sandalwood made into chunky jewellery will add a touch of Vietnamese style to your collection of bling. Buy amber stones in shades from yellow to gold and create your own personal statement piece.
Ostrich and crocodile are farmed in Vietnam for their meat and leather, and provide a sustainable industry. The leather quality is excellent and Viêt Thành is the place to shop.
Nha Trang is all about the beach, which comes alive in the late afternoon.
For a couple of bucks enjoy the comfort and shade at the Blue Sea Beach & Bar, and hang around as the thatched roof bar becomes a cool spot to enjoy a sundowner.
While you could quite easily settle into the beach at Nha Trang for days, for a slightly more serene scene, head out of town. Doc Let Beach is easily accessible on local buses – they’ll get you there in air-conditioned comfort for a little over a dollar. Dai Lanh Beach is about as remote as you can get. Here the mountains kiss the sea and women in their nón lá (conical hats) prepare the freshest of seafood. It’ll be difficult to drag yourself away – so don’t! Basic cabins will add to your Robinson Crusoe moment.
Nha Trang is Vietnam’s premier diving destination and Sailing Club Divers will kit you out. Mun Island is a protected marine environment and a great place to learn to dive in the relatively shallow waters. If you prefer to snorkel you’ll be richly rewarded if you fork out the extra cash to join a diving boat trip, rather than a local snorkelling trip to the islands close by.
If you’ve ever submerged yourself in a mud bath you’ll no doubt be singing its virtues. Tháp Bà Spa offers private pools, worth the splurge to avoid uncomfortable moments with strangers. Alternatively, for a kitsch and pleasantly surprising experience, head to 100 Egg Mud Bath and snuggle into your own private mud-filled egg! You’ll hatch as soft as a new-born baby (their words, not mine!).
Don’t miss Vinpearl Land with its Hollywood-esque sign stamped onto the hillside on Tre Island. Linked to the mainland by the world’s longest over-water cable car system, the theme park offers a fun day out for the kids, while golfers will delight at the stunning course with ocean views from every hole.
For adrenalin junkies, Shamrock Adventures will take you into the mountains to ride the white water rapids of the Cai River. You’ll be paddling furiously, unsure if the challenge is to stay in, fall out, or both!
Jeep It Up puts the pedal to the metal with excursions to the countryside and beaches in vintage war-era jeeps.
Five tours we love
Nha Trang is renowned as one of Vietnam’s most dynamic coastal retreats. Visit many of the city’s key cultural and historical sights on this half-day guided tour.
Sampling local cuisine is one of the biggest joys of travelling to Vietnam. You’ll get to enjoy several Nha Trang culinary specialties on this four-hour food tour by cyclo.
This day trip is the perfect way to explore the picturesque islands off the coast of Nha Trang. Start with a visit to the Oceanographic Institute, before transferring to the Cau Da Port to board a sailing boat for your island cruise. Snorkelling at Mun Island is one of the highlights.
This full-day bike riding tour explores the beautiful countryside surrounding Nha Trang. It’s a great way to connect with a more traditional way of life during your visit.
Treat yourself to this three-hour sunset dinner cruise on board a traditional Vietnamese junk boat, including a five-course dinner, live music and unlimited drinks and cocktails. It’s all served against a backdrop of glittering city lights.
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Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
As a travel blogger and photographer, Neil Brook travels the world looking to meet interesting people, taste great food and find different angles from which to cover his adventures. He is privileged to have lived in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore and London. Currently living in Bangkok, Neil splits his time between Thailand and London. He would be in heaven joining the Bizarre Foods team, having tried horse meat tartare in Tokyo, lobster sashimi in Manila and the perfect ceviche in Havana. More a traveller than a tourist, he prefers to mix it with the locals, learn their history and culture and walk the back streets to uncover hidden gems worthy of praise on the global stage or quiet moments of private reflection.
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