The fourth biggest city in Vietnam is a coastal town of beautiful nature and rich ancient culture. Vietnam’s fastest developing tourist destination has a population of little over half a million.
Good air connections from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang make visiting this beautiful beach town convenient. Hence, seeing many Vietnamese come over for weekends was not a surprise.
On arrival from Hanoi late in the evening and a fresh-up at the beautiful Boutique hotel in the city centre, it was a 20-minute drive to the new and happening Ambassador Club for dinner. We had just missed the sunset, but the view of the marina through the lighted beach street was captivating. Music from the other side was an obvious draw. Cuban dancers danced to an international DJ singing in the spotlight of the colourful stage. Named ‘Love by the Bay’, the music stage at the Ambassador Club is a highlight of the new Ana Marina International Marina at the shore of Nha Trang Bay. Vietnam’s first international marina with a big campus can accommodate 100s of yachts, including on and off the coast, and functional areas for commerce and services of an international wharf system. The OK buffet spread at The Club had Nha Trang seafood quintessence, including the famous lobster freshly sourced from nearby Binh Ba Island and many famous international flavours.
Boutique cruise operator Ambassador Cruise runs Ambassador Club. It is part of Asia Premier Cruises Corporation, which owns Vietdeli, one of Vietnam’s popular restaurant chains.
With its contemporary design and various seating options, the expansive venue can host up to 1500 guests, be it an event or a wedding.
An after-dinner walk along the main street revealed the city’s active nightlife. The night market on a side street had many brightly lit shops selling clothes, pearls and gems, hats, artwork and other things of tourist interest. The beachfront monument at the city square looked majestic with subdued lighting.
Para-sailing, kite surfing, paddle boarding, jet skiing and other water-sports equipment could be seen stacked to rest before the hectic day activities began later in the day. A local said that hiring a motorbike ride out of town to Long Beach was possible. It has shallow turquoise waters and is lined with local restaurants serving just-caught seafood.
The following day, a climb up to the terrace infinity pool at Boutique Hotel offered beautiful sunrise hues and tempted me to get to the beach, which was already buzzing with early risers. Regulars enjoyed a fantastic walk on the white sand stretch of Tran Phu beach. At the same time, holidaymakers like me were eager to soak in the fresh morning rays on the beach overlooking the spectacular bay dotted with 19 islands. People practised Tai Chi and yoga at the nearby park. Some were biking along the adjoining Tran Phu street.
The hotel’s fresh guava juice, peanut rice, curry, boiled corn, sweet potato, and a Vietnamese-style three-layered coffee set the energy levels soaring for exploring Nha Trang’s other attractions.
We started with Ponagar temple, an ancient temple built by the Champa dynasty. It is revered throughout Vietnam as a holy place of worship. The temple, built with red stone and burnt bricks, has appealing architecture and a peaceful atmosphere in its vast, two-level courtyard. Sitting on a hillock by the Cai River, it offers a bird’s view of the bay.
Flower and incense offerings at the ground-level altar in the central courtyard had a mystique aura due to its majestic stairways on either side. A cluster of giant brick columns here is imposing. A set of steep stairs behind these columns led directly to the temple.
Visitors access through the curving red tone stairway led to the main temple complex. The temple complex on the second level has Shiva, Parvati, Kartikeya and Ganesha shrines that were built 1200 years ago during the Champa dynasty. Some Champa people, including the priest’s family, continue to live in Nha Trang, and many more of them live in neighbouring Cambodia.
VinWonders is an all-encompassing world-class amusement park for entertainment, education, multimedia, art products, gardens, and games. It’s located on Hon Tre Island, with white sandy beaches with clear water. It is on Hon Tre Island, 5 kilometres from Nha Trang City Center. A speedboat took us 3.5 kilometres across the sea to the island.
VinWonders has six wonders divisions on 50 hectares of land open from 8 am to 8 pm. There was a long queue for the long (880 meters) zipline. We gave it a skip and moved to the castle area. A friendly dance team welcomed us with their vibrant melodies. The world garden collection of plants from 5 continents, the adventure boat ride in the dark with a story, and the fairyland with magical fairy tales were all fun. We tried a few thrilling adventure games and water rides at the fresh-water park with a large splash bay and a water Tribe Village. The sea world here has more than 30,000 marine creatures. A cable car ride connects VinWonders to Nha Trang mainland. VinWonders can also be reached by a speed boat. The entry fee covers many rides and attractions inside the park, such as the musical fountain and the spectacular TATA show (a multimedia laser show with 3-D projection) that brought curtains down for daylong activities—the regular ticket is 800,000 VND. Tickets booked online come with offers. There are three beachfront resorts for stay options on the island. The cable car re-opened this month. It is considered the world’s longest sea-crossing cable car and connects VinWonders with Nha Trang. This is a safe and picturesque ride of 10 minutes.
There are other beautiful beaches near Nha Trang. Long Beach is home to local seafood joints and surfing spots a few kilometres south of the city. Bike hires and shared bike rides are available for exploring farther to Doc Let or Dai Lanh beaches.
Day-long island excursions are convenient for exploring other fascinating small, lesser-known islands like Monkey Island, Hon Mun Island, and Yến Island in the Nha Trang Bay. For a day trip, drive 60km north of the city to Doc Let, offering one of the most picturesque stretches of coastline in Vietnam! Long Son Pagoda and its towering 78-foot-tall Buddha statue are sights to see. Less-visited spots like the Bao Dai Villa south of Nha Trang also shed light on the region’s history. Mun Island is Vietnam’s only protected marine reserve and is ideal for scuba diving and snorkelling.
One can try a mud bath at one of the wellness attractions. Natural hot springs are another attraction in the hills north of Nha Trang area. There are spas where you can experience these hot springs.
Nha Trang plays hard during the day, and its lively venues around town keep the party going well into the night.
The rainy season in Nha Trang is from September to December, but the southern coast is less prone to heavy storms than its northern counterparts. Nha Trang gets the most sunshine in the country, making the coast a paradise for travellers.
Dam market in the Nha Trang city centre is a historic market with a beautiful lotus-like structure. It’s among the famous places of interest and has shops selling clothes, pearls, stones, gems, nuts, dried fruit, fish, and clothes and souvenirs at the local market. Dam Market has a choice of fresh seafood and other local delicacies like grilled meat rolls, seafood noodles, mango rice papers and fish sauce. The night market off the main street is also suitable for souvenirs like hats, bags and pearls.
Nha Trang Oceanography Institute at the Hon Mun is considered among the first marine protected areas in the world. Nha Trang Sea Festival is held biennially, and the annual yacht races originating from Hong Kong attract tourists worldwide. The city welcomes many luxury sea cruises. The area’s bird’s nest soup is deemed one of the best in Vietnam. Nests of Yen Hang birds are collected in the wild, on bird farms on the islands off the coast and even in some houses in the inner city.
The city is next to the National Route 1, the backbone north–south road of the country. The Reunification Railway crosses the city and stops at Nha Trang Railway Station. The construction work of Van Phong Port, a deep-water port-city complex capable of handling large ships, is undertaken by a consortium of Japanese corporations.
Nha Trang offers all that of a popular coastal destination and is also venturing to become a party destination. It has fine luxury resorts and thrilling water sports facilities. Retaining to a traditional lifestyle involving fishing and agriculture makes it all the more interesting.
Written by: Madhura Katti