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Big enough to bustle, yet small enough to retain its relaxed air, the delightful city of NHA TRANG has, despite increasingly stiff competition, earned its place as Vietnam’s top beach destination. A grand 6km scythe of soft yellow sand is lapped by rolling waves on one side and fringed on the other by cafés, restaurants, hotels and some unusual modern sculptures. Hawkers are on hand to supply paperbacks, fresh pineapple and massages, while scuba-diving classes and all kinds of watersports are available. Local companies also offer popular day-trips to Nha Trang’s outlying islands, combining hiking, snorkelling and an onboard feast of seafood. Bear in mind that the rainy season, around November and December, sees the sea get choppy and the beach loses much of its appeal.
There’s far more to Nha Trang than sea and sand. The culinary scene is noteworthy, as is the range of accommodation amongst some stylish boutiques and bars. Then there are a few sights, both in and around the city, with the intriguing Po Nagar Cham towers of greatest appeal – by the time Nguyen lords wrested this patch of the country from Champa in the mid-seventeenth century, the towers had already stood here for over seven hundred years. Beyond the centre, you’ll find hot springs in which you can wallow in mud, the world’s longest cross-sea cable-car ride, and more besides. Last, but not least, is the city’s huge and hugely photogenic fishing fleet, which moors just north of the centre – a place of salty, local appeal in a city that has been embracing change for decades.
Beach-bumming certainly takes precedence over sightseeing in Nha Trang, but there are a clutch of worthwhile places to visit in the city itself, including the Alexandre Yersin museum, and a beautiful pair of religious buildings.
Sights in Nha Trang
Nha Trang Beach
Forming a magnificent sweeping arc, Nha Trang's 6km-long golden sand beach is the city's trump card. Various sections are roped-off and designated for swimmers (where you won't be bothered by jetskis or boats). The turquoise water is fabulously inviting, and the promenade a delight to stroll.
Two popular lounging spots are the Sailing Club and Louisiane Brewhouse. If you head south of here, the beach gets quieter and it’s possible to find a stretch of sand to yourself.
The best beach weather is generally before 1pm, as the afternoon sea breezes can whip up the sand.
During heavy rains, run-off from the rivers at each end of the beach flows into the bay, gradually turning it a murky brown. Most of the year, however, the sea is just like it appears in the brochures.
Po Nagar Cham Towers
Built between the 7th and 12th centuries, these four Cham Towers are still actively used for worship by Cham, Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists. Originally the complex had seven or eight towers, but only four towers remain, of which the 28m-high North Tower (Thap Chinh), which dates from AD 817, with its terraced pyramidal roof, vaulted interior masonry and vestibule, is the most magnificent.The towers stand on a granite knoll 2km north of central Nha Trang, on the banks of the Cai River.It's thought this site was first used for worship as early as the 2nd century AD. The original wooden structure was razed to the ground by attacking Javanese in AD 774, but was replaced by a stone-and-brick temple (the first of its kind) in 784.The towers serve as the Holy See, honouring Yang Ino Po Nagar, the goddess of the Dua (Liu) clan, which ruled over the southern part of the Cham kingdom. There are inscribed stone slabs scattered throughout the complex, most of which relate to history or religion and provide insight into the spiritual life and social structure of the Cham.All of the temples face east, as did the original entrance to the complex, which is to the right as you ascend the hillock. In centuries past, worshippers passed through the pillared meditation hall, 10 pillars of which can still be seen, before proceeding up the steep staircase to the towers.
Alexandre Yersin Museum
Highly popular in Vietnam, Dr Alexandre Yersin (1863–1943) founded Nha Trang’s Pasteur Institute in 1895. He learned to speak Vietnamese fluently, introduced rubber and quinine-producing trees to Vietnam, and discovered the rat-borne microbe that causes bubonic plague.
You can see Yersin’s library and office at this small, interesting museum; displays include laboratory equipment (such as astronomical instruments) and a fascinating 3-D photo viewer.
Tours are conducted in French, English and Vietnamese, and a short film on Yersin’s life is shown.
Yersin travelled throughout the central highlands and recorded his observations. During this period he came upon the site of what is now Dalat and recommended that a hill station be established there.
Today, the Pasteur Institute in Nha Trang coordinates vaccination and hygiene programs for the country’s southern coastal region. The institute produces vaccines and carries out medical research and testing to European standards. Physicians at the clinic here offer medical advice to around 70 patients a day.
7.30-11am & 2-4.30pm Mon-Fri, 8-11am Sat
Long Son Pagoda
This striking pagoda was founded in the late 19th century. The entrance and roofs are decorated with mosaic dragons constructed of glass and ceramic tile while the main sanctuary is a hall adorned with modern interpretations of traditional motifs.
Behind the pagoda is a huge white Buddha seated on a lotus blossom. Around the statue’s base are fire-ringed relief busts of Thich Quang Duc and six other Buddhist monks who died in self-immolations in 1963.
The platform around the 14m-high Buddha has great views of Nha Trang and nearby rural areas. As you approach the pagoda from the street, the 152 stone steps up the hill to the Buddha begin to the right of the structure. Take some time to explore off to the left, where there’s an entrance to another hall of the pagoda.
7.30-11.30am & 1.30-5.30pm