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.
Nha Trang for history lovers
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.
Top cultural experiences in Nha Trang
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. Cafe SV 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.
Great places to eat in Nha Trang
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 complement 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.
Where to shop in Nha Trang
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 generally fragrant and delicious, but one variation known as ‘Weasel Coffee’ may not be your cup of tea. 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. The amber stones come in shades from yellow to gold and are available in jewellery stores across the city.
Ostrich and crocodile are farmed in Vietnam for their meat and leather. The leather quality is excellent and Viêt Thành is the place to buy it.
Ways to relax in Nha Trang
Nha Trang is all about the beach.
For a couple of bucks you can enjoy comfort and shade at the Blue Sea beach bar during the day. The thatched roof bar is also a cool spot to enjoy a sundowner.
While you could quite easily settle into the sand along the Nha Trang beachfront 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!).
If you have kids in tow, or you’re just a big kid at heart, head to VinWonders Nha Trang on Tre Island. Linked to the mainland by the world’s longest over-water cable car system, the theme park ensures a fun day out. There’s also a stunning golf course, which offers ocean views from every hole.
For a different take on your standard day tour, explore the region around the city with Jeep It Up. They put the pedal to the metal in vintage war-era jeeps.
Do you have any tips to add to our Nha Trang travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
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 write about his adventures. He is privileged to have lived in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. More a traveller than a tourist, Neil prefers to mix with the locals, learn their history and culture, and walk the backstreets to uncover hidden gems worthy of praise in words or quiet moments of private reflection.