It is perhaps the foremost beach destination in Vietnam, attracting people from all over the world. It comes with bonuses: Buddhist and Cham temples and a bustling nightlife.
The best time to visit Nha Trang is between April and August when dry weather and warm climate make it ideal for trekking and adventurous sports activities.
For diving enthusiasts, the peak season in Nha Trang runs between January and October.
Some events make it a better time to be in Nha Trang. For instance, when thousands of runners including foreigners gather in town for the VnExpress Marathon’s debut in the beach town next weekend, the vibrant atmosphere will be a special experience.
Around three kilometers from the mainland, Hon Tre Island, the largest in Nha Trang Bay, is poised to become a major tourism center, resort and entertainment complex in the coming years.
The island, home to 1,500 inhabitants who mainly live on fishing and tourism, hogged the limelight in 2015 after the Vinpearl Resort opened.
Vinpearl Land Nha Trang, a complex including an amusement park, a water park, and a shopping center, is the most popular tourist attraction on the island. Visitors can have a fun day by paying VND880,000 ($37.55) per person, including two-way transport by cable car and other sightseeing services.
From Nha Trang, the island can be accessed in about 15 minutes with speedboats that depart from Cau Da Wharf.
On Hon Tre Island, Bai Tru and Bai Chen are the most popular beaches that people flock to, to swim, surf and go kayaking.
Many resorts and tour companies also organize scuba diving excursions for memorable underwater exploration.
Long Son Pagoda or White Buddhist Pagoda as locals call it was built in the 19th century, making it the oldest such monument in the beach town.
Combining traditional Vietnamese architecture and symbols of Taoist belief with sculptures of mythical animals such as dragon and lion, the pagoda was destroyed during the Vietnam War and has undergone several repairs since.
After climbing 193 steps to the top of Trai Thuy Hill, one can take in the large white concrete statue of Gautama Buddha, recognized as Vietnam’s largest outdoor Buddhist statue by Vietnam Records.
Atop the mountain, the marble statue of Reclining Buddha rests against a background of finely carved relief that describes the scene of 49 disciples converging the day the Buddha passed away.
Thap Ba is a small street in downtown Nha Trang that is dubbed a "food paradise." It is lined with restaurants selling fresh seafood including lobster and crab, as well as cheap and delicious familiar Vietnamese dishes like the crispy Vietnamese pancake banh xeo and steamed rice rolls banh cuon.
If snails are your thing, the Xuan and Oc Huong 85KB restaurants are good options. At the Gio Bien Restaurant, seafood is "caught" and cooked after an order is placed.
Some of Nha Trang’s signature dishes like tapioca rice noodles and banh can (mini grilled pancakes) are worth tyring.
The Christ the King Cathedral in Nha Trang, also known as the Stone Church, was built in French Gothic style by Priest Louis Vallet in the early 19th century, and remains one of the town's most important architectural vestiges.
It holds Mass every day between 5 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. and visitors need to register one day or at least an hour before the church opens at 8 a.m.
The Ponagar Tower built by the Cham people during the 8th-13th centuries is one of the largest Cham cultural heritage sites in the country.
The complex is of significant spiritual value and importance for the Cham people who organize special ceremonies including festivals.
Many tourists choose to visit the Cham Towers during the third lunar month when the largest Cham festival of the Central Highlands and south-central regions is held at the complex.
This festival worships Thien Y Ana or Holy Mother with unique rituals.
The Cham tower complex is located on the Cu Lao Marble Hill, around two kilometers north of downtown Nha Trang.
Diep Son Island in Van Phong Bay, about an hour by boat from the mainland, is famous for its pristine beauty and the sandbar connecting the islands.
From Nha Trang, ask for the way to Van Gia Village in Van Ninh District, more than an hour to the north. From Van Gia, take Tran Hung Dao Street to the wharf. Boats operate during the day, with the last trip at 3 p.m.
A private boat for about seven to eight people costs VND500,000 ($21.50). Since Van Phong Bay has strong waves and the island is quite far from the mainland, boats usually leave for the island in the morning so that they can return by noon or a bit later.
Some 80 families live on the island and make their living by fishing. Residents of the island only get to use electricity for three hours a day. Diep Son Island remains pristine with no hotels or motels, so it is advisable to take enough food and water on the trip.
Co Tien (Fairy Mountain) near the Bai Duong Beach hosts one of the most popular hiking trails in Nha Trang. It is ideal for camping and the road leading to the mountain peak can be covered in 30-45 minutes.
There are no tours to Co Tien Mountain yet, so the best way is to rent a motorbike from downtown hotels for VND50,000 – 120,000 a day.
This mountain is just 400m above sea level so people in good health can conquer it easily.
One of the country’s busiest tourism hotspots particularly favored by Chinese and Russian tourists, Nha Trang boasts nightlife that matches that of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
Two of the most notable mentions are the Nha Trang Sailing Club and Skylight Rooftop Bar, conveniently situated close to each other on Tran Phu Street.
The Sailing Club offers a combination of open bar and mouth-watering cuisine right on the beach, Skylight takes the party to the sky with a 360-degree view of Nha Trang.
The Nha Trang night market on Tran Phu, Tue Tinh and Tran Quang Khai streets is also an ideal place to discover true nightlife scene.
The market has around 50 booths, including 16 cuisine stalls. It is a great place to shop for clothing, souvenirs, handicrafts and street food.
Banh can, a southern Vietnamese specialty consisting of crunchy small rice pancakes made with quail eggs, fresh and dry pork, and finally, seafood - usually shrimp or squid, is a must-try dish in Nha Trang.
No. 151 Hoang Van Thu Street and No.51 To Hien Thanh Street are the two most popular addresses for this dish.
The cakes are cooked in a small clay pan on glowing charcoal. They are usually sold by the pair due to their humble size.
Banh can is served with a fish sauce, lemon juice, chili and garlic dip. Some places also serve herbs, pork balls and green mango as sides.
A portion with all ingredients costs around VND60,000 ($2.62).
Another breakfast not to be missed in Nha Trang is noodles served with fish that can be found along tourist streets in the beach town. The most place for this dish is Nam Beo stall near the Dam Market, which sells for VND30,000 a bowl.
The type of fish used to make the dish can be tuna or sailfish with thick, sweet, chewy flesh. The restaurant owners will remove the bones, chop the fish into pieces and drop it into the broth.
Some restaurants also add fish cakes and jellyfish to the bowl of noodle soup, which comes with bean sprouts, lettuce, herbs and add a little lemon juice, a little fish sauce or shrimp paste.
Grilled rolls - nem nuong – are a top Nha Trang treat served by restaurants on Dang Van Quyen or Vu Thanh An Streets. The dish is typically made of pork, seasoned and then grilled.
A portion of grilled rolls served at a restaurant in Nha Trang. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Linh
Grilled on-site, the rolls are served with rice paper, lettuce, herbs, chili, garlic and steamed rice.
Then, Lac Canh restaurant on Nguyen Binh Khiem Street has been serving grilled beef for over 40 years.
The secret of making the perfect grilled beef lies in the recipe that marinates the meat with honey and more than 10 different spices. The recipe is handed down from generation to generation, and is only known to specific members of the restaurant owner's family.
Nha Trang’s deep herring salad can be found anywhere in town. The salad is a harmony of the sweetness from fish, mildly sour taste from lemon and spicy heat from chili. The sauce, usually made with fish bones, is carefully seasoned to enhance the taste of the salad.
As a major tourist draw, Nha Trang has no shortage of accommodation.
Tran Phu Street, which runs along a 12-kilometer-long beach stretch , is dotted with an array of hotels and resorts costing VND550,000 to 5.5 million per night.
Some luxury resorts along Tran Phu Street are Muong Thanh, Novotel, InterContinental Nha Trang and Sheraton Nha Trang. Budget homestays and motels are mainly located along Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Hung Vuong or Nguyen Thien Thuan Street with prices starting from VND200,000 a night.
For more privacy and escaping noisy urban crowds, Nha Trang Bay with isolated resorts such like Vinpearl would be an ideal choice for you but the area is mostly oriented towards affluent travelers and families, with room prices from VND900,000-16 million a night depending on room types.
From Hanoi and HCMC the easiest way to reach Nha Trang is by air as Vietnamese airlines such as Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air, Jetstar, all operate daily flights that would land at Cam Ranh Airport, around 35 kilometers from Nha Trang, with ticket prices ranging from VND1.4-2.5 million.
From Cam Ranh Airport, you can take a taxi to move to the downtown area of Nha Trang for about VND300,000 a trip or catch a bus for VND50,000 one way.
More affordable options are a sleeping bus or train ride that takes around nine to 11 hours.
Story by Hoang Phong