Welcome to Vietnam’s ocean city! The capital of Khanh Hoa Province, Nha Trang sees a heavy local and international tourist influx, especially in the summer.
The central beachside city area is quite busy and full of cheap guesthouses and small restaurants. The beach and its outlying islands have sprouted some fine new resorts. The surf isn’t bad (for a frolic, not for surfing) along the vast crescent-shaped beach in Nha Trang’s central city, and the bright blue vista is dotted by more than 20 surrounding islands. There are many good high-end hotels and resorts to choose from, and the high-rises in the town center hearken almost to a large beach town in Florida. Good budget options abound, too. Dining is all about fresh seafood.
Nha Trang is a very popular vacation spot for Vietnamese. In the summer months, the town is chockablock with tourists and young kids out “cruising’ the strip” on the main seaside avenue. The beaches of Nha Trang are a great place to spend 2 or 3 days playing in the surf, snorkeling and diving, or taking a cruise to the nearby islands. And Nha Trang’s nightlife is thumping. Centering around the busy backpacker area along Biet Thu Street, the bars hop until late. In fact, the party often starts out on the boats by day and then continues at the bars until late. Prepare to shake thy booty at the beach.
Culturally, the Pasteur Institute offers a glimpse into the life and work of one of Vietnam’s most famous expats. Both the Long Son Pagoda and the well-preserved Po Nagar Cham Temple are interesting sights.
In the winter, the surf can be quite rough, making swimming and water sports less than desirable, but daylong boat trips are always a go. Nha Trang is a good place for diving to soft coral sites brimming with reef fish, and a number of very professional dive outfitters can take you there (quite inexpensive by Western standards). Also note the newly developed Whale Island, just a few hours north, as well as new developments near the airport.
Because Nha Trang expects an increase in regional and international flights, the airport moved to Cam Ranh Bay, 30 minutes south of town. The logic of the new airport is clear longer runways for bigger planes but the old in town airport is now home to a bevy of military jets, which take off in a deafening roar over the south end of the beach throughout the day. It’s kind of cool if you like jets, but not so cool if you like peace and quiet.
By Plane Nha Trang is 1, 350km (839 miles) from Hanoi and 450km (280 miles) from Saigon. Vietnam Airlines makes daily connections with Vietnam’s urban centers and nearby Dalat. The Vietnam Airlines Office in Nha Trang is at 91 Nguyen Thien Thuat St. (058/352-6768); storefront travel agents can make any reservations for a small fee. The Nha Trang airport, once in the center of town, has traded places with a larger military facility, is now called Cam Ranh Airport, and is some 35km (22 miles) south of town. The larger resorts offer more affordable group connections or limousine service, and some include free transfers.
By Train Nha Trang is a stop on the Reunification Express and is 12 hours from Ho Chi Minh City on a soft sleeper and 20 hours to Hanoi. Buy your ticket at least 1 day in advance at the Nha Trang train station, 17 Thai Nguyen St. (058/382-2113), or from any travel agent. The overnight connection with Ho Chi Minh City is the most convenient route.
By Car If you choose to drive from Hoi An to Nha Trang, it’s a 10-hour trip.
By Bus “Open tour” buses connect you with Hoi An (530km/329 miles; 10 hr.; every day at 7 am or 7 pm) or Ho Chi Minh City (450km/280 miles; 8 hr.; every day at 7: 30 am and 8 pm). The overnight schedules to Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An are long and tiring rides, but a good option if you’re short on time and don’t want to waste your precious daylight hours looking out the window of a tour coach. Daytime routes connect to both towns as well. Open buses also connect with Dalat (214km/133 miles; 6 hr.; every day at 7am) and the beaches at Mui Ne (6 hr.; every day at 7am).
The local bus station is the Lien Tinh Bus Station at 23/10 Street. Buses connect with all points north and south, as well as to towns in the interior Central Highlands (closest is Ban Ma Thuot).
The main street in Nha Trang, Tran Phu, runs along a 4km (2,5 mile) beach lined with the myriad mini hotels and beach attractions that make up the town center. Biet Thu Street runs perpendicular to Tran Phu and is where you’ll find lots of smaller restaurants and budget tour operators, as well as the city’s most affordable accommodations. Taxis congregate around the major hotels. Mai Linh is a reputable, taxi company.
Where To Dine
Ana Pavilion Asian/Continental Without question the finest dining on this beautiful stretch of coast, the Ana Pavilion is the jewel in the crown of the Ana Mandara Resort and serves exquisite food in elegant natural surroundings. Whether you’re on the oceanfront veranda, under a canvas umbrella in the courtyard, or eating by candlelight over the open ocean on the seaside jetty, the location alone is breathtaking. The food is creatively prepared and beautifully presented, and the portions are healthy. Chef David Thai serves from an ever-evolving roster of local and seasonal specials, fine East-West fusion, with anything from sandwiches made with bread baked on-site and imported cheese or imported Aussie steaks to local favorites such as banana flower salads and even sushi done to a T for the many Japanese guests. Don’t miss the seafood hot pot served in a large, coal-fired crock and brimming with the catch of the day delicately stewed with vegetables. There’s an excellent daily lunch buffet, and evening set menus are a great value. This is the best choice for romantic ambiance and fine dining.
Good Morning Vietnam Italian This little Vietnamese chain might seem a little out of place (and kind of redundant, with six locations in tour centers nationwide), but with an Italian manager ensuring good quality, this outlet, the first of the chain, serves familiar Italian fare. It’s a nice break after many meals of noodle soup and local beer. Affordable by any standard, everything is cooked fresh and ingredients are of the highest quality. All kinds of pasta are homemade. Try the gnocchi dumplings with pesto or Gorgonzola, or the ravioli filled with braised meat. The fritto misto of deep-fried squid, shrimp, and sea bass served on the pasta of your choice is a house specialty. The place is not luxurious, by any means just another storefront in and among the town’s most popular bars, such as Crazy Kim’s and Guava but Good Morning Vietnam has a nice “grotto” feel and is a cozy respite from the noonday heat, as well as a good spot to watch travelers on Biet Thu as the evening’s nightlife lights up.
Ngoc Suong Seafood Nha Trang has dozens of good seafood restaurants, hut this one leads the pack. Whether in the very pleasant thatched outdoor pavilion or the vaguely nautical, softly lit interior, it’s “seafood as you like il” served by helpful, friendly staff. Whole fish and crustaceans can be chosen by pointing in the large tank and smiling greedily; the day’s catch, including shrimp and crab, is ordered by the pound, grilled, fried, or boiled with basic spices like tamarind or pepper and lemon. The oysters, if they have them, are small but succulent. The name of the restaurant refers to a delicate marinated whitefish salad, one of the specialties and a great appetizer. This is a popular local and expat favorite.
Nha Trang Seafood Seafood/Vietnamese Popular with Japanese groups (or local fat cats out to impress their mistresses), Nha Trang Seafood serves it fresh and delicious as you like it: grilled, steamed, or fried. Viet-style preparation is sweet, sour, and/or spicy; grilled items are good, and the shrimp in coconut, clay-pot dishes, and hot pots are affordable and delicious. The atmosphere is plain, best by candlelight on the second floor when the place is crowded (dull by the light of day). The staff is fun-loving and friendly.
Sailing Club Italian/Indian/International Sailing Club is a great base for days at the beach. You can rent a chair, order lunch and snacks, and have drinks delivered all day. The prices are a little higher than if you were to rent a chair elsewhere and buy from locals, but the service is good and you can be sure of the quality. You have three separate menus from which to choose, along with three seating areas: to your right is Casa Italia, left is Taj Mahal, and Sandal Restaurant is in the back toward the beach.
Head to Sandal if you want a mix of everything. The place turns into a bar in the late evening, and just as the Sailing Club has been exempted from local building codes, they’re also the only bar able to stay open until the wee hours. The place has seen constant upgrades over the years and is a very stylish seaside pavilion of thatched-roof indoor seating, low beachside outdoor seating, and a private thatch lounge area on the beach. Nha Trang Sailing Club is also home to an office of Rainbow Divers, and you can also rent boats for the day from here.
Lac Canh Chinese/Vietnamese Two words: grilled shrimp. The Chinese- influenced Vietnamese cuisine here is all about its ingredients, so go for the basics. Try the fresh seafood in a light marinade that you cook yourself on a rustic, cast-iron brazier frill. The place is packed with locals and tourists. Try to sit outdoors, because the atmosphere
is smoky. They don’t speak English as well as staff at Truc Linh, but the food is better and cheaper. This is definitely the local “greasy spoon,” and it makes for a fun evening.
Truc Linh 2 Restaurant Vietnamese An eclectic menu here has anything from the backpacker standbys of fried rice and noodles to sirloin steak and T-bone: It runs the gamut. There’s a seafood smorgasbord out front from which you can choose your own jumbo shrimp, crab, squid, or fresh fish of the day and then have it weighed and cooked to your taste. They’ve got fondue and clay-pot specials, barbecued beef on clay tile, and rice-paper spring rolls with shrimp that are delicious. Truc Linh has become one of the hottest spots in Nha Trang, and even folks from the big resorts make it here for a meal at least once. Cover the table in seafood to share. Waiters in smart Nero jackets do the “Hurry, hurry, step right up” act out front, but they’re hawking good, fresh seafood at budget prices, so let yourself get dragged in. Don’t confuse this place with little Truc Linh 1, also on Biet Thu, closer to the beach, which serves simple Viet and Western cuisine (not a bad spot for an afternoon snack or coffee, though).
Veranda Restaurant Seafood/Vietnamese A great location and standard seafood dishes. The decor is cozy contemporary, and a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of the main street.
Louisiane This seaside pavilion, unfortunately, cranks out the loud Asia pop tunes, which destroys the atmosphere. They serve good salads, sandwiches, snacks, and rich French fare at reasonable prices. And the view is still topped, so see if you can persuade them to turn down the music.
Rainbow Bar A cool, dimly lit little bar and cafe area just off of Biet Thu, the Rainbow Bar is a good place to plan your dive trip over a pint with the professionals, or just enjoy some good basic pub grub, pasta, pizza, and steaks for little money, and wash it down with imported ales and wine.
Romy’s Ice Cream and Coffee Bar Look no further if you are an ice cream buff. German owner Fridtjof Rommeley is a trained cook and chef who left the kitchen for the ice cream freezer 2 decades ago. He has run an ice creamery for 16 years in his hometown and now brings his much-needed expertise to Nha Trang. Almost everything, including the waffle cones and garnishes, is homemade, with ingredients imported from Italy. The “Special Dalat” is their bestseller, a huge affair of mostly local fruits and ice cream topped with a healthy dollop of whipped cream. The ice cream was the creamiest I’ve ever had in Vietnam.