As I wrote in a previous post, Nha Trang tends to get a bad rap for being too touristy, too full of Russian families and too inauthentic. I’ve talked to so many people who have skipped Nha Trang altogether based on other travelers’ reviews. I did the same thing during my first backpacking trip to Vietnam in 2006. But what I’ve learned after years of traveling the world is that just because someone else dislikes a particular travel destination doesn’t mean that I will.
I’ve been to a lot of places (Bogotá, Boracay, Koh Rong, Gili Trawangan, Phnom Penh to name a few) that I almost skipped because of the negative or lukewarm reviews I heard from fellow travelers. And guess what? I ended up loving them! I’ve also visited plenty of places other people adored that just didn’t click with me. You just never know how you’re going to react to a place until you’re actually there.
Nha Trang, Vietnam, is one of those places that gets mixed reviews. But I actually really like Nha Trang and for those of you who have the time I argue that it’s most definitely worth taking a chance on.
If you’re not familiar with Nha Trang, it’s located on Vietnam’s south-central coast. It’s a bustling city of roughly 500,000 people set right on a beautiful stretch of beach and fringed by lush green mountains. The city center is definitely geared toward tourists, meaning it’s full of restaurants, hotels, spas and tourists.
So no, I’m not here to argue that Nha Trang isn’t touristy. It is! But it’s also incredible.
If you google “things to do in Nha Trang” you’re likely to see the top tourist spots listed as Vinpearl Island, the 100 Egg Mud Bath, the I Resort, the booze cruise, etc. I’ve honestly never done any of these things. From what I’ve heard they are definitely super touristy, and I personally have never been tempted by them. But that’s just my personal travel style and taste. I’m sure some people love these attractions.
For me, what’s so special about Nha Trang is what lies on the outskirts of the city. So my suggestion is to rent a motorbike (or hire a driver if you’re not prepared to brave the insane traffic) and see the sites that surround Nha Trang, because there are some real gems around the city that don’t seem to get as much attention on travel blogs and in guidebooks.
Things to do in Nha Trang:
1. Bai Duong Beach
If you’re traveling to Nha Trang chances are you’re looking to put in some quality beach time. While Nha Trang’s main beach is enormous and beautiful, it is definitely not the best beach in Vietnam. It’s not even the best beach in Nha Trang.
There are actually tons of stunning beaches in and around Nha Trang. I didn’t have a chance to get to them all, but I did find a great alternative to Nha Trang Beach that I really liked: Bai Duong Beach.
Bai Duong Beach is located a few kilometers north of downtown Nha Trang. It’s actually about an hour-long walk or a 10-minute drive, so it’s really easy to reach. Compared to Nha Trang Beach, it’s a much more relaxing and serene place to spend the day. While it is far from secluded it is way less crowded than the main beach and there are very few touts. The water is also much more clear and calm, making it a better (and more picturesque!) swimming beach.
There are also tons of hotels around so this could arguably be a great area to stay (though I haven’t stayed there myself). It’s also located right next to the Hon Chong scenic area (see below).
2. Hon Chong
I’m not going to lie: this spot is beautiful but it can also get really touristy. I visited during Tet (Lunar New Year) in January 2017 so there were hordes of tourists clambering over the picturesque boulders and turquoise water, snapping selfies. I decided to take in the site from afar (which is why I don’t have a great photo of it), but had it been less crowded I would have loved to explore it. Keep in mind that the weeks surrounding Tet are some of the busiest in Nha Trang, so I think it’s safe to say the spot isn’t always that crowded.
3. Ba Ho Waterfall
This is by far my favorite place to visit in Nha Trang. It’s best known for its three beautiful (and swimmable) pools. The Ba Ho Waterfall is located a 45-minute drive up the coast from downtown Nha Trang. I rented a motorbike to get there for 60,000 VND (US$3) for a day.
The coastal scenery is stunning and the rice paddies that lead to the waterfall are incredibly vibrant (at least they were in January). Once you reach the waterfall you’ll need to hike up a semi-steep crude path to reach the three pools. Luckily someone has drawn red arrows on the rocks to guide you so it’s basically impossible to get lost.
It’s a pretty sweaty and muddy hike. You will have to climb up boulders and at parts it can be a bit challenging. But the hike is so worth it once you reach the top. Plus, the chilly pools are so refreshing. It’s also possible to jump off the boulders into the water.
I visited in late January, during what was a particularly rainy month, and from my experience it was a great time to visit Ba Ho Waterfall. Despite the fact that I visited during the touristy week of Tet, there were only a handful of other tourists at the waterfall. I have heard that during some months the waterfall is pretty dry; do your research beforehand so you don’t head all the way out there only to be disappointed. Also, it’s best to visit in the morning, because it starts getting pretty dark and cold in the late afternoon.
4. Po Nagar Cham Towers
This is probably one of the most touristy thing to do in Nha Trang. But hey, I love temples and history so for me this was a must-do. The towers were built between the 7th and 12th centuries and still function as a worshipping site for Buddhists.
It’s a small complex so all you really need is 30 minutes. It’s also possible to walk from downtown Nha Trang to the temples, which I enjoyed doing because it enabled me to snap some photos of the picturesque port and boats and the lush mountain on which the towers are set.
5. Long Son Pagoda
This is a really cool Buddhist temple located in the heart of Nha Trang. The original temple dates back to 1886. However, it was destroyed by a cyclone and was later relocated to its current location at the base of Trại Thủy Mountain in 1900. From the entrance you can peek inside the temple, but also make sure to venture up the hill where you’ll find a giant reclining Buddha, a picturesque pagoda, a fascinating cemetery and then finally a giant white Buddha, which is located at the very top.
This place is well worth a visit for the bird’s eye view of Nha Trang. And if you’re hungry definitely grab bowl of veggie pho or bun bo hue (Vietnamese noodle soups) at the vegetarian Buddhist restaurant located at the entrance of the complex. So cheap and so good!
These are just a few of the things I did in Nha Trang but there are so many things to do that I just didn’t get around to. Here are a few things I wish I would have done.
6. Drinks at the Havana Hotel
Head to the top of the 43-story Havana Hotel for a drink and epic views of Nha Trang. It does cost 120,000-150,000 VND to go up to the viewing platform but for less than $8 I’m so mad I didn’t do this. Not only is there a great pool up there, but there’s a glass viewing platform so you can see the city below you. There’s no doubt this is the best view in the city.
7. Snorkeling and Diving
The weather was really stormy during my time in Nha Trang (in January and February) so conditions were not optimal. For the most part the ocean was pretty choppy while I was there, so I figured the snorkeling wouldn’t be all that good. I have heard really great reviews about the snorkeling and dive sites and the water can be seriously beautiful at certain times of the year.
8. Sip on some craft beer
Craft beer is all the rage in Vietnam right now, and by the looks of it Nha Trang will soon have a thriving craft beer scene. The Louisiane Brewhouse is the best known spot to grab a beachfront craft beer. But walking around the city I saw at least three other hip-looking craft brew places. Again I never tried any of them, but I wish I had. So keep an eye out during your visit if craft beer is your thing.
Have you ever been to Nha Trang? Do you have anything to add to this list?