Of all the places we visited across Vietnam it was our one day in Nha Trang that surprised us the most!
Hearing numerous tales of debaucherous booze cruises and concrete jungles, we nearly skipped Nha Trang altogether. A good thing we didn’t, because it ended up being one of our favourite destinations.
Yes, there is a very strong Russian tourism presence wherever you look, and yes, the sky-rise hotels and resorts are slowly consuming every little piece of beachfront real estate still available between Nha Trang and Cam Ranh airport, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a fascinating city full of culture, art and most importantly fantastic streetfood!
If, like us, you only have a day to spend in Nha Trang, then here’s a great little itinerary that will showcase it’s best bits, along with a few additional recommendations for those that have some more time on their hands.
We were staying right on the beach at the Sunrise Nha Trang, the perfect starting point for our urban explorations!
8:00am: After an early breakfast, start the day with a stroll along the Nha Trang beach promenade, or even a swim if you feel like taking the edge of the hot humidity. Each of the major hotels has its own ‘private’ strip of sand at which you can secure a beach chair and umbrella. We even had our own street-crossing attendant to help us navigate the busy road between our hotel and the beach (not that we needed it after having already spent nearly a month in Vietnam)!
9:00am: It’s a tough life all this eating and sleeping and swimming and relaxing…so why not recover with a body scrub, chocolate body wrap or traditional Vietnamese massage? There are dozens to choose from across Nha Trang, but we ended up with Pure Vietnam Beauty & Spa because not only have most of their staff been trained by their Australian owner (16+ years in the industry) to a higher level than other spas, but they also put considerable time and effort into supporting the disadvantaged within their local community. Pure Vietnam is located at the top end of Nha Trang Beach, only a short walk in from the beachfront.
10:30am: With loose limbs and a slight case of ‘massage hair’, wander the backstreets of Nha Trang, eventually arriving at Chợ Đầm (Dam Market). We hadn’t heard of this market before arriving in Nha Trang and literally just stumbled across it! It’s one of the more interesting local markets we’ve come across, and while they did still have their share of trinkets and souvenirs on the outer edges, at its heart lies a vibrant collection of stalls clearly catering to the locals.
11:00am: Soak up the sights, smells and sounds of the real Nha Trang, keeping out an eagle eye for kamikaze xe om (motorbike taxis) as you work your way inland to Long Thanh Art gallery. As a photographer I’m somewhat biased, but I honestly think that every visitor to Nha Trang should take the time to appreciate the numerous pieces of photographic art hanging on the walls of Long Thanh’s gallery. Mr Thanh is a true master of the art form, working solely with film, and only producing black and white images. You only need to see a few of his images to realise how unsurprising it is that he has exhibited around the world, from Australia to Germany to Japan. Not only is he a brilliant photographer, but he is also a warm hearted and generous individual, taking genuine pleasure in showing me his dark room and providing a few small insights into his history and approach to photography. Of course we couldn’t leave without making a purchase, and I’m sure you will too. The perfect souvenir from Vietnam, and so easy to transport home in your suitcase!
12:00: Lunch time! One of of Nha Trang’s specialities is a dish called bún cá, or vermicelli noodle with fish. For those that like to push the boundaries, a variant on this dish is bún sứa, where the fish is joined by slices of jellyfish! Together with an ice cold glass of lime juice, this is the perfect way to both combat the heat, and eat like a local. You can find one of Nha Trang’s best bún sứa eateries, simply titled “Bún Cá Sứa” at 87 Yersin, only a 2 minute walk from Long Thanh Art. If you’d like to know more about bún sứa, and to see a photo, then click here. Alternatively, if jellyfish isn’t your thing then there are plenty of other ‘normal’ street eateries in the area.
1:00pm: After a rejuvenating bowl of bún sứa, continue walking up Yersin to the Long Son Pagoda where you can get the first of two cultural experiences for the day. Long Son is a Buddhist temple that suffered quite a bit of damage in the Vietnam war, but has since been brought back to its former glory. The temple itself can be found near the road, but for those wanting to experience some fantastic views of Nha Trang and its surrounds, take the stairs to the right (152, to be precise!) and you’ll find yourself at the foot of a massive statue of the Buddha. Keep an eye out for the young touts at the temple, as they will probably try and take you on a ‘free’ guided tour. While you’re not obliged to pay up, they WILL put the pressure on at the conclusion of the tour!
2:30pm: Descending from the lofty heights of Long Son, return along Yersin and then Thai Nguyen Road to the big roundabout. Take a right hand turn and you’ll find yourself at one of Nha Trang’s most recognisable landmarks, the Nha Trang Cathedral. Quaint early-1900s Gothic-style architecture and a great way of escaping the tropical sun for a short while!
3:30pm: You’ll want to leave the cathedral before 3:00, to give yourself time to get to Lanterns Restaurant. Why? Because this is the start of an epic food tour spanning seven venues and a massive range of street food unlike any you’ve tasted anywhere in Vietnam! Lanterns pride themselves on providing a unique experience, taking tourists on an exploration of Nha Trang’s back alleys and shop fronts where the locals love to congregate and socialise. You won’t find any banh mi or spring rolls on this tour; this is about the lesser known, yet equally tasty street food that has been the mainstay of Vietnamese life for centuries. It was the last place we expected to find a tour like this, yet it was one of the best we’ve experienced anywhere in the world!
6:00pm: If you can still stand…we’re on the home stretch now! Waddling your way back towards the beach, on the corner of Biet Thu and Tran Phu is the extraordinary XQ Hand Embroidery workshop and outlet. Spread across a very large complex of interconnected buildings, each with their own embroidery theme, is one of the most astonishing displays of handiwork that I’ve ever seen. Embroidery isn’t our ‘thing’, yet you couldn’t help but stand and look in awe at the size, intricacy, skill and patience that has gone into the numerous works on display. The prices are high, but understandably so; these are true artisans.
7:00pm: That’s it, finished, kaput. Time to either make the walk back up the beach to your hotel, or perhaps grab a seat at one of the numerous bars and coffee shops scattered up and down Tran Phu and enjoy a cleansing ale, refreshing cocktail or a well-earned cup of authentic Vietnamese coffee. Nha Trang is a city with something for everyone, and for many it’s only when the sun goes down that the city truly comes alive. If your feet are still in good shape and you’re looking to party on, then there are venues a-plenty to keep you occupied into the wee hours of the morning!
It’s clearly impossible to encompass everything that Nha Trang has to offer in the space of only a single day, yet this itinerary does give you a pretty good insight into the neon-shrouded soul of the city.
With more time on your hands you might also be interested in these options…
- Alcohol, islands, swimming and good times? Do a booze cruise! Funky Monkey is just one of dozens out there offering this ridiculously cheap experience.
- A beauty treatment with a difference? Try the 100 Egg Mud Bath!
- Looking for excitement? Vinpearl Land has water slides, roller coasters, cable cars…plenty to keep you or the kids occupied!
- Culture? Explore the Po Nagar Cham Towers, just outside Nha Trang’s city centre. These towers are similar in style to the ruins of Angkor and date back to the 700s.
- Want more options? Drop by Travelfish, they know their stuff!
- Or you could drop by this great blog by ‘Owee’, an ex-pat living in Nha Trang, for a local’s perspective and some great touring options – Owee58.com
The Sunrise Nha Trang hotel was a great place to stay as well, and if you’re looking for accommodation this would be a great option. It’s right on the beach and is walking distance from pretty much everything in the middle of town. Their breakfast is absolutely EPIC as well! What more could you ask for? If it sounds like something you’d be interested in, click here for other customer reviews and to make a booking.
It would be easy to put Nha Trang in the box for party animals, lounge lizards and Russians, but all you need to do is just scratch the surface and straight away a whole world of other options comes to light. Nha Trang has something for everyone; backpackers, families with children, couples, foodies…don’t procrastinate, lock it in!!
As always, if you’ve got any questions at all, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
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