Nha Trang

Nha Trang coast by CC user jywhite on Flickr

Introduction

Vietnam’s premiere seaside resort town, Nha Trang is the place to go if you’re looking for a lively beachside holiday.  In other words, if you’re looking for a party, you’ll find it here in this rapidly growing city.

Here, you’ll cuisines of almost every nationality, cheap hotel rooms abound and more towers and guesthouses crop up every year to serve the ever increasing amount of tourists that are finding out about this slice of paradise on the central coast of Vietnam.  As such, this place is definitely more urban than the sleepier destinations of Mui Ne further south and the tropical island of Pho Quoc that lies off the southern tip of the country; if peace and serenity is what you seek, these two destinations will likely be a better fit for your needs.

Originally just a fishing village, Nha Trang used to be known more for its seafood than its now abundant nightlife.  However, when the French colonized Vietnam in the 19th century, they saw the intense beauty of this coastal getaway, and thus its transformation into a rest and relaxation hub was set into motion. When American soldiers needed time off from the front lines during the Vietnam War, this area proved to be very popular, stalling briefly after the end of the Vietnam War, and then starting up again after doi moi (openness policy that allowed in some elements of capitalism), accelerating to the rapid pace of development that exists today.

While visiting during the period of October to mid-December should be avoided, when the monsoonal flow in this region of Vietnam brings torrential rains and the occasional typhoon ashore, most other times of the year are perfect for discovering the liveliest urban beach in Vietnam.  If this scene appeals to you, but the excesses of Pattaya and Phuket scare you, then Nha Trang will reaffirm the possibility that a city beach destination can exist in Southeast Asia without the underlying seediness of the previous two places.

Po Nagar Cham Towers by CC user savannahgrandfather on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

Before hitting the beach for rest and recreational purposes, let’s explore some of the cultural gems that the Nha Trang area has to offer its visitors.  First on the agenda is the Long Son Pagoda, home to a 79 foot tall white statue of the Buddha.  The pagoda itself honours monks and nuns who were eliminated by government authorities in response to protests against their rule in 1961.  Word of warning: fake monks will wander around soliciting an entrance fee.  It is free of charge to visit this site, so pay them no heed.

Next up is the National Oceanographic Museum of Vietnam, which offers an opportunity to learn all about the sea creatures that lie in the depths just off the coast of Nha Trang.  For the exceptionally low price of 15,000 dong (approximately $0.75 USD), this aquarium has a suitably impressive array of sea life on display, such as sharks, turtles and sea horses.  The park closes at 4pm, so be sure to get this attraction in early if you have a lot of activities on your list for the day.

One of the more important religious sites for Buddhists in the Nha Trang area are the Po Nagar Cham Towers, which serves as a site to honour the founder of the old Vietnamese kingdom, Yang Ino Po Ngar.  The four towers emit the sweet smell of burning incense into the air, making it a very spiritual place indeed.

Finally, be sure to swing by the Nha Trang Cathedral on your way to the beach after your long day of culture hunting.  Constructed in the Neo-Gothic style of architecture in 1933, it stands as one of the many legacies the French have left behind in Vietnam, long after their time as colonial masters had ended.  However, the locals have added their own unique touch to this landmark institution, as various aspects of the church, such as the main crucifix, are lit up using neon lighting tubes!

beach at Nha Trang, Vietnam by CC user savannahgrandfather

Other Attractions

Your main motivation for heading to Nha Trang was to hit the beach, and everywhere up and down the waterfront, you’ll find plenty of yellow sand and shady palms (watch out for coconuts: they can knock you out/kill you if they hit your head) to stretch out on.  Vendors wander the beach selling snacks and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), loungers are available to rent, and surfing lessons in the choppy waters of the South China Sea are all available; just be sure not to bring anything of true value with you to the beach, as pickpockets do roam.

If you are a theme park junkie, be sure to hit up Vinpearl Land, a massive complex designed to keep entertained and engaged from sun up to sundown.  Start by taking the cable car across to the island upon which the park is located, after which you’ll a choice between an aquarium, a water park complete with an array of slides and a wave pool, an amusement park that includes a roller coaster, ending all with a laser night show after darkness has fallen (usually by 7 pm).

Finally, Thap Ba Hot Springs and Mud Baths is an excellent way to relax and detox after a couple of days of intensive sightseeing and enjoying the local nightlife just a bit too much.  For no more than $12.50 USD a person, you can have access to both the mineral hot springs and the therapeutic mud baths on site.  Massage services and food are also available here, allowing you to make a complete day of it at the Thap Ba Hot Springs.

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