I think three days is a good enough time to explore what Nha Trang has to offer. During my time in the city, I explored its old ruins, shopped at its markets, relaxed at the spa, enjoyed the ocean and relished its local cuisine. Three days is a good enough time — unless of course, you want to laze on its beach (or dive its waters) for longer days.
A seaside town that is famous for its 6 kilometers stretch of lovely coastline, Nha Trang is located on the south central coast of Vietnam. I’ve not heard about Nha Trang until recently — but apparently it is popular with Russian and Chinese tourists that descend upon its beaches and tourist attractions throughout the year. The city is also known for its selection of delicious Vietnamese fare, pampering mud spas, and the exciting nightlife. The coast of Nha Trang is definitely touristy and catered for the foreign crowd, but the old part of town still retains a more local Vietnamese vibe.
I did a little bit of hotel hopping during my stay in Nha Trang. On the first day, I stayed at the central Galina Hotel and Spa Nha Trang; then shifted to the Golden Sea Hotel to be closer to the dive centre; and then ended the stay at the Regalia Nha Trang Hotel for some beautiful sea views. That’s 3 hotels in 3 days! And this was my itinerary.
DAY 1: The Sights
I arrived in Cam Ranh International Airport on the morning AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur. The town of Cam Ranh is actually about a 45-minute drive from central Nha Trang, and I arranged a pick-up from the airport with the Galina Hotel and Spa Nha Trang. The 4-star hotel is at a great location in the center of town and near the beach — and is the only place that provides a mud spa in the city center (though I didn’t have time to visit it, and went to a mud spa out of town instead).
After checking in, it was almost time for lunch — so I hailed a ‘Grab’ e-hailing bike ride (my trusted transport provider on this trip) to the old town area of Nha Trang. The first day of my trip was to visit the more recent cultural sights of the city.
Lunch at Nam Beo Bun Cha
Lunch on my first afternoon in Nha Trang was at the Nam Beo Bun Cha, just in front of the Dam Market. The small unassuming restaurant is one of the many rows of stores along the busy road in old town Nha Trang. It serves a mean bowl of Bun Cha Ca/Bun Sua — a soup simmered with sailfish and mackerel bones, served with fish cakes, jellyfish and vermicelli noodles. It was so yummy, I ordered another serving of fish cakes!
The three-storey Dam Market was almost devoid of people during my visit in the afternoon — probably because the locals usually shop in the morning, and nobody wanted to endure the midday heat. Despite that, the market is disorganized and crammed with shops and shops selling everything from souvenirs and counterfeit goods, to dried seafood like shrimp and cuttlefish, and food stalls — there was hardly any space to move at all. And just like all markets in Southeast Asia, I had to bargain (as long as its a fair price then it’s alright — after all, the locals could do with a little more). We didn’t wander too long around the market.
Long Son Pagoda
From Dam Market, I took a ‘Grab’ bike and headed to the Long Son Pagoda at the foothills of the Trai Thu Mountain in the center of Nha Trang. The current temple is placed in its current position after a cyclone destroyed the original one that was built in 1900. The pagoda and the main sanctuary of the temple are filled with traditional motifs and mosaic decorations — but I think the main attraction of the temple is the large white Buddha image that sits atop the mountain. The 24-meter Buddha statue was built in 1964 and offers beautiful views of the city from its platform. Entry is free, and modest clothing (shoulder and knees covered) are required.
Nha Trang Cathedral
After visiting the Long Son Pagoda, I took a short ‘Grab’ bike ride to the Nha Trang Cathedral. It was almost evening when I arrived, and the cathedral was closed — it opens from 8:00-11:00am and 2:00-4:00pm daily except Sundays and major events, and is free to enter. However, I got to admire the cathedral from the square down below the hill from where it stands. There’s a statue of Ava Maria at the square, and it was packed with visitors and food vendors selling local snacks. The Nha Trang Cathedral (also known as the Christ the King Cathedral), was built in 1928 by the French missionaries, and is known for its beautiful stained glass windows. Too bad I missed out on seeing it!
Tram Huong Tower
After visiting the religious sites of Nha Trang, I felt that it was time to finally see the beach! I prefer to take beach walks in the evening because the merciless Southeast Asian sun isn’t high up in the sky anymore, so I wouldn’t be melting into a pool of sweat. I was dropped off at the square in front of Tram Huong Tower, which is surrounded by hotels and restaurants housed inside colonial buildings in the center of town. There’s not much to see in the tower itself (just a couple of floors filled with gift shops), but it serves as a symbol of Nha Trang — built in the shape of a lotus bud blooming under the sun.
Walk along Tran Phu Beach
But of course, my main purpose was to enjoy a stroll along Tran Phu Beach. There were still many people lounging around the beach area in the evening — sunbathing with that little bit of sun, sitting about having a picnic, bathing in the sea… there were also many food vendors selling snacks like dried cuttlefish and barbecued sticks on the sand. I found a lovely spot just along the platform overlooking the beach, and sat for a little while to people-watch, and admire the changing colors of the sky as the sun sets.
The Night Market
Just a short walk from Tram Huong Tower, the Kinh Chao Quy Khach Night Market faces the beach and runs along a street away from it. The stalls were just opening during my visit in the evening, and as soon as night fell — it was bustling with locals and tourists. Walking through the market, I noticed that they sold mostly souvenirs, little trinkets, and arts and crafts pieces. There were food stalls as well, selling local snacks and delights. Several lanes along the night market leads to the many seafood restaurants in the area.
Dinner at Bien Man Seafood Restaurant
The night market area was a little too crowded for me, so after walking through the market stretch, I made my way back to my hotel to freshen up before dinner. It had been a long day since arriving in Nha Trang in the morning, so I decided to eat close-by. Just around the bend from the hotel, I came across the Bien Man Seafood Restaurant that had a whole array of fresh seafood displayed outside the restaurant. All I had to do was just point to what I wanted, ask for the price, get it weighed, tell them how I wanted it done — and then off to the kitchen it goes. The restaurant was quite crowded, but food came out fast. And it was pretty delicious, and fresh. Definitely fresh.
Most importantly, my stomach went to sleep happy.
DAY 2: History and Nature
On my second day in Nha Trang, I headed up a little further north from the city center to visit the natural and historical attractions in the area. I shifted to my second hotel in Nha Trang later in the afternoon — the Golden Sea Hotel Nha Trang, to be close to the dive center I was going diving with the next day! The hotel is pretty basic (it’s a shop lot, really) and I chose a room without a window — but for a 2-star hotel for a night, it was good enough. But first, I was up and about early in the morning, and took a ‘Grab’ bike ride to my first stop of the day — Hon Chong.
The Hon Chong Promontory opens at 6am, and I arrived just as the day got bright. Entrance cost VND22k (US$1), and because there was hardly anyone around when I got there, so I had the whole place to myself to sit down for some quiet time, playfully jump across the rocks, and take as many pictures as I wanted. Hon Chong is filled with lots and lots of rocks, all stacked up one on top of another — and they come in all shapes and sizes. The rocks jut out into the beautiful wide open sea of Nha Trang, and is truly a natural wonder. By 9am, bus loads of tourists descended upon the place — making it too crowded to wander about. I then made my way to the Hon Chong Cafe for a morning cuppa, and savored my Vietnamese coffee overlooking the rocks and the ocean. The cafe soon got crowded too, so I didn’t stay for too long.
That Po Nagar
By the time I got to the Po Nagar Cham Towers, the entire place was already swarming with people. I paid the VND22k (US$1) and made my way up to the towers — gorgeous ruins built between the 7th and 12th centuries as a place of worship by the people of the Kingdom of Cham. Po Nagar was built to honor the goddess Po Nagar, identified as the “Mother of the Country”. It is believed that there were about 10 of these red-bricked towers altogether, but only 4 remain — each dedicated to a different deity. I felt that as beautiful as the towers are, the disorderly crowd roaming the grounds have taken out the peace and tranquility that is often associated with such religious places.
Lunch at Random Shop in Front of That Po Nagar
It was almost lunch time by the time I left the Po Nagar Towers. I noticed a row of small food shops just opposite the ruins — so I decided to head over for a little local flavors. The first shop I came across had this little old lady working on some dishes that looked like pancakes, and because she was so smiley and welcoming, I chose to eat at her place. It turns out that her little store serves Banh Xeo, which is a savory fried pancake made out of rice flour and turmeric powder, and stuffed with meat and prawns. It was pretty delicious.
Thap Ba Mud Spa
And then the entire afternoon was dedicated to the spa! Nha Trang is popular for its mud baths — and one of the more popular places to go for one is the Thap Ba Spa, about a 15-minute ‘Grab’ bike ride from That Po Nagar. There are many services offered at the spa — and I choose 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. I paid VND1,400,000 (US$60) for the 3-hour session. The spa was almost empty during my visit — and I had an absolutely relaxing time. I felt the price was a little too steep though, and would actually have been satisfied just jumping into the public mud pool for only VND200k (US$9).
After the spa session, I went back to the Galina Hotel and Spa to grab my luggage, and made my way to check-in at the Golden Sea Hotel. I also dropped by the Rainbow Divers Nha Trang (just down the road from the hotel) to register for my dive the next day.
Dinner at Lantern’s Vietnamese Restaurant
I then took a short nap at the hotel (spending time at the spa makes you sleepy) and woke up in time for dinner. I was absolutely famished and wanted to try some local Vietnamese cuisine, so I made my way to the Lanterns’s Vietnamese Restaurant — just a 10-minute walk from my hotel. The restaurant serves a variety of Vietnamese specialties, including claypot and sizzling bbq dishes, Vietnamese curry, rice paper rolls, and papaya salads. I ordered a ‘chicken in a coconut’ dish to go with a bowl of white rice — and it was a satisfying meal to end the day.
That night, I slept like a baby (once again, thanks to the spa session).
DAY 3: The Ocean
Third day in Nha Trang and it was going to be all about the ocean, the underwater, and the beach! It was dive day — and one of the main reasons for my visit to Nha Trang. I decided to shift hotels again on the final day (my room at the Golden Sea Hotel didn’t have a window) because I wanted to catch the sunrise the next morning before leaving the city. I chose the Regalia Nha Trang because it is by the Tran Phu Beach and has balcony rooms with gorgeous views of the coast, and also because it has its own private lounge area on the beach. Yes, I needed some beach time too!
Diving with Rainbow Divers
Despite being a little skeptical about diving in Nha Trang at first, I have to say that I had a great time diving with Rainbow Divers Nha Trang. The day before, I walked-in to the centre and was immediately greeted at the entrance (and convinced and assured) to dive with their team. A 2-dive day’s trip cost me US$75 (with equipment) — and although it was a little more expensive compared to the other dive centres around Nha Trang, I was satisfied with the service, the equipment, the dive masters, the boat, and my safety. We were brought to the Hon Mun Marine Park, and I did my dives at the Madonna Rock and the Mama Hahn Beach. Currents at the sites were mild, with pretty alright visibility at 10 meters. Nha Trang’s underwater might not be as beautiful as many other places here in Southeast Asia, but I enjoyed my dives. After the 2 dives, and lunch, we got back to the dive center just before 2pm.
Wrote more about my experience here:- A Day Scuba Diving Off the Coast of Nha Trang, Vietnam.
Meal at Lac Canh’s Grilled Beef
Diving makes me hungry, so it was off to look for more food after my morning’s dives. I took a ‘Grab’ bike to the Nha Trang old town to look for a restaurant that specializes in grilled beef. Just had to get a taste of this well-known dish before leaving the city! It was outside of lunch time when I got to Lac Canh Restaurant, so it wasn’t too packed. I was ushered up to the 1st floor where I ordered a portion of Lac Canh’s barbecued beef with their special marinated sauce for VND98k (US$4). I barbecued it myself on a charcoal grill — and I have to say, it was a delightful meaty meal. The sauce was absolutely delicious! And because that wasn’t enough, I also got me a plate of luon dum (eel pate wrapped in pig’s fat) for VND80k (US$3.50). Sounds pretty bizarre, but it was quite yummy. And I had them all with a bottle (or maybe two) of San Miguel beer. Heaven!
After my late lunch, I returned to the Golden Sea Hotel to pick up my belongings — and went off for a little more luxurious beach living at the Regalia Nha Trang.
Beach Time on Tran Phu Beach
As soon as I dropped off my luggage in the room, I was off to the beach! I hadn’t spent much time on the beach since I arrived in Nha Trang — and being a beach girl, I needed to get some tan on. Regalia Nha Trang provides complimentary usage of the sun loungers on the beach to its guests, so I spent the rest of the evening under the sun, by the sea, in a bikini. Ocassionally, a food vendor would come by selling some snacks; and I was also harassed by a random lady who claimed that I had to pay to use the sun loungers. I didn’t understand her much, but since I was a guest at the hotel, I decided to ignore her. Other than that, I had a good time just chilling by the beach.
Dinner at LIVINcollective
I made some friends while diving, and we agreed to meet up for dinner that night. One of the guys suggested we head to LIVINcollective — a restaurant, boutique store, and co-working space all bundled into one white and black minimalist house, with an al-fresco courtyard with wooden tables. The popular restaurant was full when we arrived, but they managed to find us a seat (we browsed through the craft store while we waited). There were three of us, so we ordered the huge BBQ intro platter that came with rib tips, a sausage trio, quarter chicken, and 2 sides for VND400k (US$17) — and it was absolutely divine. The restaurant also serves burgers and tacos; and a variety of drinks like craft beers (which was delicious) and specialty coffees.
Drinks at Sailing Club
After dinner, we decided to head to the popular Sailing Club by the beach — where the Nha Trang nightlife was in full swing. The club is pretty impressive with its opened air concept, complete with comfy sofas, sun loungers, high stools, lounge beds and a dance floor; and serves food for dinner (and throughout the day) before transforming into a nightclub at night. We only stopped by for an hour or so for some drinks and to join in the party for a little while, and then called it a night.
The next morning, I woke up before the break of day to catch the beautiful Nha Trang sunrise from my balcony; before heading to to the airport for my early flight back home. I had a wonderful three days in Nha Trang, and I have to say, I really didn’t want to leave this lovely unassuming beach town with so much historical, cultural, religious and natural beauty.