Nha Trang is Vietnam’s best known beach destination: golden sand beaches are lined with palm trees. This is a prime spot for watersports, in particular scuba diving and surfing. The pristine beachfront and low-key city are backed with looming mountains, whilst small islands beckon from the sea. It’s time to discover for yourself just what entranced the French who made this their premier beach resort over 100 years ago.
Dive with the sharks and rays
Nha Trang has been the ‘serious’ home of scuba diving within Vietnam for the last ten years, ever since the government established a protected marine park region just off the coast of Nha Trang in 2003. The island of Hon Mun is one of the top dive spots within Southeast Asia. Local operators will transport you out to Hon Mun Island, which is a short boat ride away. Here you can snorkel and swim, although it’s the superb diving that most come for – the myriad of colorful corals are very close to the coast. The waters are teeming with tropical fish including devil scorpion fish, clown fish and nudibranches. And although rare, sighting the odd reef shark, turtle or manta ray is a distinct possibility. Hon Mon is perfect for abilities: from beginners to those looking to take their PADI training amidst the breathtaking surroundings.
Explore the Po Nagar Cham Towers
The four brick towers that make up the Po Nagar complex (pictured above) date back to the Cham Kingdom period who ruled this region between the 7th and 12th century. These particular towers were built to honour Yang Ino Po Ngar, who was regarded as the matriarch of the Cha Kingdom. Located about 2km north of Nha Trang itself, the towers are strategically located at the mouth of the Cai River. Visitors will catch the intense and heady scent of the incense sticks burning within the towers, which attract Vietnamese Buddhists, Cham and ethnic Chinese to pray and make offerings. In fact, this site has been used as a place of worship since 2AD.
Sample the local watersports and glorious beaches
As well as superb diving facilities, the glorious golden beaches along the Nha Trang coastline also offer fantastic opportunities to indulge your passion for various watersports. Try your hand at windsurfing, wakeboarding, sea kayaking and water skiing.
Nha Trang beach itself is rather built up and is lined with an abundance of shops, bars and restaurants, which is great if you like plenty going on. However if you’re looking for a little bit of peace and quiet, head a little way out of the city to Bai Duong Beach, which has calmer waters: perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Nui Hon Chong Beach is as gorgeous as the scenic route that leads to the hidden rocky stretch of coast. And over the mountains is the pretty Bai Dai Beach which is clean and largely explored by tourists.
This is also the perfect base for a boast trip out to one of the many outlying islands. Make the journey to Hon Yen, aka Bird’s Nest Island and you’ll be amply rewarded with sightings of thousands of switflets, who are busy building their nests within the caves on the island. The two islands that make up Hon Yen; Hon Noi and Hon Ngoai are about 20km off the coast of Nha Trang.
Discover stunning Long Son Pagoda
Established in the late 19th century, the Long Son Pagoda is a beautiful example of a Buddhist temple. The roof of the pagoda is adorned with colorful glass mosaics depicting dragons. Behind the pagoda sitting atop a small hill is a giant sparkling white Buddha statue, which is visible across Nha Trang. The scared Buddha rises to 79 feet (24 meters). Don’t forget to cover your knees and shoulders and contrary to what waiting touts may tell you, the pagoda is free to enter.
Admire Nha Trang Cathedral
The imposing French Gothic Nha Trang Cathedral, aka Nha Tho Nui, is a stunning example. The catholic cathedral was built atop a small hill between 1928 and 1933, during French colonial rule. The sumptuous architecture boasts stained glass windows and features three large bells within its tower. Regular mass sessions are still held here thanks to the strong local French Catholicism influence.
Spend a few hours at the Vinpearl Amusement Park
Many others destinations within Asia have branches of Disneyland and Universal studios, and this is Vietnam’s version… sort of. The independent Vinpearl Amusement Park covers some 200,000m2 and highlights include a stunning Orchid Garden, Underwater World and Cable Car System. There are also arcade games, funfair rides and various waterpark rides. Built by Vietnam’s first billionaire, Vinpearl is located on its own island, Hon Tre Island, which is reachable via the Vinpearl Cable Car, which is actually the longest cable car system to run over a body of water – some 3,320 meters long in total! It’s supported by nine pillars which were built to resemble miniature Eiffel Towers, which are lit up at night. Those afraid of heights can opt for the local ferries or powerboats to hop over. The main draw with kids of all ages are the abundant waterslides, of which there are 20: perfect for watery adrenaline seekers. Vinpearl is also home to the biggest wave machine within Southeast Asia. Don’t miss the pretty Truc Lam Pagoda which sits atop a mountain and catch a show in the 5,000 seater Vinpearl Amphitheatre, which is dubbed the most modern of its kind within Vietnam. And as an interesting bit of travel trivia, Hòn Tre Island was formerly used as a jail but is now solely used as a resort island!
Explore the surrounding countryside
The region around Nha Trang is rich with lush rice fields and refreshing waterfalls. Hire a bicycle or motorbike and head out of the city. Head to the Ba Ho waterfalls which are close to Ba Ho village. The series of three intense waterfalls make for a decent light climbing location, followed by a soothing dip in the falls afterwards. Take the jungle path to the Fairy Spring waterfalls, which are filled thanks to the cool waters coming off the Hồn Bà Mountain. There are also thermal waterfalls, hot springs and mud baths locally.