The city of Nha Trang is located on the south central coast of Vietnam. This lovely seaside town is famous for its 6 kilometers stretch of gorgeous coastline, its beautiful sunrise, the array of delicious Vietnamese cuisine and seafood, the pampering mud spas; and not to forget, its exciting nightlife. Yes, Nha Trang is a party town too! It can get crowded with the huge numbers of Russian and Chinese tourists descending upon its beaches and tourist attractions everyday. So for a more local vibe of this Vietnamese city, head into the old part of town.
I spent 3 days in Nha Trang. Despite the scorching hot weather, I enjoyed strolling along the beaches, zooming pass in the crazy traffic on a motorbike, and exploring the many rows of shops, cafes and restaurants in the town center. I had an amazing time spending lazy days on the beach, getting pampered at the spa, diving in the ocean, and visiting the many sights in the city. So here’s sharing my top 10 things to do on a holiday in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
1) Sunbathe on Tran Phu Beach
The long stretch of coastline along Tran Phu Street can get pretty crowded with people swimming and sunbathing on the beach all through the day. But of course, there is no place better to people watch and bask in the Vietnamese sun. Most international hotels along the coast have sunchairs on the beach in front of the hotels for guests — or you can always rent one, or lay out your own towel on the sand. Locals selling trinkets will approach you once in a while, and there is always a vendor or two selling local snacks (like dried squid) right on the beach. Come dark, the beach is a little quieter — and so I laid out a mat to enjoy some beer, and then did a little night swimming.
And oh yes, the sunrise. Wake up early to catch the spectacular sunrise by the beach. Or better still, in jammies and a coffee in hand… from the balcony of your beachfront hotel.
2) Go Back in Time at the Po Nagar Cham Towers
The Po Nagar Cham Towers are located north of the city center of Nha Trang; by the banks of the River Cai, and atop Mount Cu Lau. The towers were built between the 7th and 12th centuries as a place of worship by the people of the Kingdom of Cham. It is believed that there were about 10 of these red-bricked towers altogether, but only 4 remain — each dedicated to a different deity. Po Nagar was built to honor the goddess Po Nagar, identified as the “Mother of the Country”. The tallest remaining building (at 25 meters) is dedicated to her, while the other three are shrines of Cri Cambhu (the goddess of fertility), and Hindu Gods Shiva and Ganesh.
I visited Po Nagar in the morning, and by the time I arrived, the temple ruins were already packed with throngs of visitors. It was really hard to find an empty spot to truly sit in peace to admire the ancient temples, which took out the entire meaning to it. Still, Po Nagar is indeed beautiful (and historical), and worth a visit. Entrance cost VND22k (US$1).
3) Admire the View at Hon Chong
I absolutely loved Hon Chong in the early morning. Without the crowds, I think I could spend an entire day here just swimming, walking along its pathways and rocks, and have coffee while admiring the gorgeous views. In a city that is famous for its surrounding mountains overlooking the sea; this is the place where you can find both. Located north of Nha Trang’s city center, the promontory is filled with rocks upon rocks, all stacked up on top of one another — some small, some huge, some standing alone, some standing in gravity-defying positions. And they face the sea, the beautiful wide open ocean of Nha Trang. Such a breathtaking natural wonder.
I arrived at Hon Chong just as the day got bright — it opens at 6am and entry costs VND22k (US$1). There was hardly anyone around then, and I had the place all to myself to sit down for some quiet time, playfully jump across the rocks, and take as many pictures as I wanted. By 9am, bus loads of tourists slowly descended upon the place, and so I made my way to the Hon Chong Cafe for a cuppa coffee to start the day. The cafe eventually started crowding up too — so I didn’t stay for very long.
4) Soak in a Nha Trang Mud Bath
A friend told me that I should definitely try the mud baths of Nha Trang, so I did. Out of the few popular options available, I chose the Thap Ba Spa, located a little further away towards the north of the city center. Upon arrival, I was greeted and introduced to the various services offered at the spa — and settled on the Relax Package at the new Nui Spa. It included a 20-minute private mud bath, 30-minute herbal steam bath, 45-minute body massage, usage of the pool and jacuzzi; and free pizza, snacks and drinks. The package cost VND1,900,000 (minus an introductory discount of VND500k), so I paid VND1,400,000 (US$60) for the (almost) 3-hour session.
The Nui Spa was almost empty during my visit. I was led to the changing room and my private “den” — and then left on my own to enjoy my mud and steam bath. I could have just soaked longer if I wanted too, cause there was no one around to assist! The massage was done in another area. I didn’t think the whole package was really worth the price — but the mud bath was awesome, and I half-wished I just jumped into the public mud pool for only VND200k (US$9)!
5) Find Peace at Long Son Pagoda
After a cyclone destroyed the original Long Son Pagoda in 1900, it was shifted to its current position at the foothills of the Trai Thuy Mountain in the city of Nha Trang. The pagoda and main sanctuary of the temple are beautiful with traditional motifs and mosaic decorations — but what really caught my attention was the large white Buddha image that sits at the top of the mountain. Built later in 1964, it can be seen from everywhere in town; and from the top, offers breathtaking views of the city of Nha Trang. A steep flight of stairs lead up to the 24-meter statue. Mid-way up, there is an image of a sleeping Buddha and a bell tower.
The temple is a working monastery that is home to Buddhist monks, and has a school for monks in its grounds. Therefore, modest clothing should be worn when visiting the temple, with shoulders and knees covered. I visited the temple in shorts and was not permitted into the main sanctuary, but was still allowed to head up the stairs to see the huge Buddha statue.
6) Visit the Nha Trang Cathedral
The Nha Trang Cathedral, also known as the Christ the King Cathedral is situated on a small hill in the Nha Trang city center. The cathedral was built in 1928 by the French missionaries — and constructed with cement blocks with beautiful stained glass windows. There is a small square with a statue of Ava Maria just below the hill on which the cathedral stands.
The cathedral is free to enter; and opens from 8:00-11:00am and 2:00-4:00pm daily except Sundays and major events. Unfortunately, I arrived in the late evening — and since the cathedral was closed, I was only able to join the crowds to admire the cathedral from the square down below. There were many local food vendors by the side of the square while I was there, so I used to opportunity to sample some locals delights — from bread and buns, to desserts and durian flavored ice-cream.
7) Bargain Hunting at Dam Market
The Dam Market, also known as the Nha Trang Market, is a three-story building located in the center of the old town of Nha Trang. It opens before the sun rises at about 4:00am, and closes at sunset about 18:00pm everyday. The market is where you can experience the everyday life of the Vietnamese people — fishermen come to sell their catch, farmers gather to sell their produce, and local craftsmen and women sit by their stalls selling everything from clothing, to handicraft and little trinkets. The market has been running since 1974, and is a great place to visit to buy your souvenirs, try local snacks, and to test your bargaining skills.
I visited the Dam Market just after having lunch in the old town. The market was relatively empty during my visit — probably because it was a scorching hot weekday afternoon. It did get pretty humid just navigating through the cramped lanes and small overpacked stalls. Vietnam is famous for their coffee, nuts, and dried food — so those were some of the little stuff that I looked for to bring home.
8) Go Diving and Snorkeling
Now, you can’t be at a seaside town and not get into the ocean! Nha Trang has a variety of snorkeling and diving tours to the nearby Hon Mun Marine Park, Monkey Island, Whale Island and beyond. Though relatively new as a diving and snorkeling destination, Nha Trang offers great underwater experiences with its lush coral reefs and visibility to about 10 meters. During my visit to Nha Trang, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go diving, even if it was just 2 dive sites and only for a day!
I had a lovely dive day in Nha Trang with the Rainbow Divers Nha Trang. It is always fun exploring the underwater — and in Nha Trang I saw colorful corals, nudibranch, and eels. The waters were calm and friendly with very little current, and I dived at the Madonna Rock and Mama Hahn Beach dives sites at the Hon Mun Marine Park. You can read more about my dives here:- A Day Scuba Diving Off the Coast of Nha Trang, Vietnam.
9) Take Part in the Shopping and Nightlife
I based myself at the heart of all the action of Nha Trang — and had a fantastic time at this seaside party town. During the day, I strolled along the many streets and lanes that were filled with restaurants, cafes and little souvenir shops. In the evening, I dropped by the “Kinh Chao Quy Khach” Night Market just along the beach promenade. The stalls along this night market open till late night, and you can find all sorts of knick knacks — like clothing, handicraft, paintings, souvenirs and little trinkets for sale. Don’t forget to bargain!
Come night, the city lights up with music and dance. There are many pubs and clubs along the beachfront — and I popped by the Sailing Club (one of the city’s most popular night clubs) for some snacks and drinks. If you are looking for a place to enjoy your drinks with a view; head to the Skylight rooftop bar at Havana Hotel for a 360 degrees view of the city. I didn’t get to visit, but I heard its beautiful from up there. I much prefer spending my nights on the beach though — listening to the sound of the waves in the dark, with a VND10k (US$0.5) beer in hand.
10) Eat Your Heart Out!
And the food! We cannot forget about all the delicious Vietnamese food and seafood to be had in Nha Trang. From delicious local street food like pho, bun cha and barbecued meat; to the wide variety of seafood — there are just so much to savor in the city. Here is a list of some of the restaurants and food I had the opportunity to dine in:-
- Bun Cha Ca and Bun Sua (fish cakes and jellyfish vermicelli) at Nam Beo Bun Cha.
- Grilled Beef and Luon Dum (eel pate) at Lac-Canh.
- Vietnamese Cuisine (like paper rolls, coconut chicken and grilled fish) at Lantern Restaurant.
- Barbecued Smoked Meat Platter at the Livin Collection.
- and of course, lots and lots of seafood like lobsters, crabs, prawns, clams, and fish. I went to the Bien Man Restaurant.
These yummy fares are surely not to be missed — but of course, don’t limit yourself and try whatever takes your fancy. There are tons of local food stalls and vendors just set up along the side streets — I tried some of those snacks, and honestly, did not know the name of what I was eating. It was good anyway, and most importantly, my stomach agreed with me!