3 days in Nha Trang, The Arts Center of Vietnam
Nha Trang is known as the centre for arts in Vietnam, however along with the incredible arts and crafts present in the area, there is also a lot to see and do.
We set off from Saigon around 9pm on the overnight train to Nha Trang. All good no drama’s there and the girls loved their first long train trip. Nha Trang itself is a port city, and while it has a beach, the beaches in Vietnam aren’t amazing like we Aussies are used to. I'm not bashing Vietnams beaches, however we live on the Gold coast and have some of the worlds best beaches about 5 mins walk from home. Nha Trang does have some islands close to the coast, hence the main reason for our visit.
It is worth noting however, that some English people we met were in love with the beaches, so it seems we could have been spoiled Australians.
What to do for 3 days in Nha Trang
Nha Trang has heaps to see and do, however if you only have a few days, these are my recommendations.
Hiring Scooters, Motorbikes or Mopeds in Nha Trang
It's very easy to find a bike hire place as they are scattered all over the city and usually quite close to hotels and tourism areas. You can choose from many hire places around or you can pre-book via BikesBooking.com which usually means you get a much better level of rental bike. The companies that use this platform have to be pretty reliable so if this is your first time, paying a little more and getting a good quality bike makes for great peace of mind. Bikes on BikesBooking.com in Nha Trang were available from around € 11-12 per day in December 2022 when I last updated this post.
No matter where you hire your bike from however, there are a few questions you should ask before you rent a motorbike anywhere, not just Nha Trang.
Do you ride a motorbike at home?
While it might feel like you aren't going very fast and you are not trying to get anywhere on time, you are riding a motorbike
- in a foreign country,
- on roads you aren't familiar with,
- under road rules you don't know and
- you are one of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people doing it every day.
Be aware that riding even a scooter that is automatic and you can drive under a car license can be very dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. Vietnam has something like oly 20% less scooters on the road than they have citizens, so there is HEAPS of bikes out there competing for road space. Not to mention that they know what they are doing. If you don't, a taxi might be a better solution.
Read the motorbike Rental Agreement
Check the agreement to see exactly who pays for what. I've heard of shonky operators charging people for a new tyre when you get a flat even though the tyre on the bike was less than perfect. Be very aware of exactly what you are responsible for and how much you might pay.
It doesn't matter how much they rush you – don't skimp on this part. Read the damn agreement!
Ask what their pick up policy is if you break down
Another thing to be careful of is how you might get the bike back to the rental yard if you break down. Be sure you know. That is often another way for the hire bike company to make money. They charge you $250 to get the bike back via a truck and they kick back $100 to the truck driver. Meanwhile you are sitting on the side of the road waiting for hours for someone to come and get you. Make sure you have a contactable number and actually test it before you leave the yard.
Check the bike, the tyres and your helmets are in good working order.
I realise if you don't know motorbikes its hard to know how reliable it is but you should check that
- the brakes are in good working order,
- that it starts OK,
- that there is a lock either on the steeting column or you have a chain to lock it if the steering does not lock and
- that the seat and foot pegs are secure. Trust me I once went to hire a bike and it only had one foot peg and the guy told me to rest my other foot on the exhaust. Yeah – I think not!
- Check that your helmets fit well (you should not be able to pull it up over your chin once secured) and that the staps are in good condition. A badly fitting helmet is almost as bad as none at all.
If they have more than one bike, once you have read and signed the rental agreement ask to take the particular bike they are offering you around the block to test the brakes and steering etc. Don't try to test the brakes in a busy area. Sometimes the car park at the back of the rental lot will suffice. If the bike is not up to scratch, return it immediately and ask for another.
Know where you are going to store the bike overnight.
Most of the hotels in the area will store the bike for you but there is usually an overnight parking fee. If the rental lot is close to your hotel, just ask them if you can leave it there overnight each nigth. They won't care I'm sure and probably won't charge you either. You should never leave a hire bike on the street, always have somewhere to lock it up securely overnight.
Now you have your hire bike, get out and explore Nha Trang.
Visit Ba Ho Waterfalls Nha Trang
From the middle of Nha Trang it is about 40mins ride to get to Ba Ho Waterfalls. I would visit the waterfalls while you have our motorbike or scooter. We rode out to the viewpoint over Monkey Island Resort and then on to Ba Ho Waterfalls. The viewpoint is just a place on the road you can pull off and they are frequent along that ride up the coast, however once you reach Tan Thanh you start heading inland so make sure if you want to check out the coast and islands you do it before then.
The waterfalls and lakes weren't super developed when we were there, however I believe that now its quite a little complex. We went mid week which meant it was very quiet and we had a nice afternoon there. There was a little mobile stall selling drinks and snacks and an area with tables and chairs but now it is quite nice I've heard. There are paddle boats, jumping castles in the water and even a pool now.
You can hike up to the third lake however it is pretty much a scramble over rocks and through the water so you do need good shoes with decent grip. We were on the motorbike so we had sandshoes on and I could not have done it without the shoes. I've seen photos of the creek and waterfalls with this exceptional blue color, however we were there after some big rains and everything was muddy brown. I actaully got bitten by a few fish at one point which was terrifying because the water was so silty and I couldn't see what was biting me. I had no marks and they were just fish nips but it freaked me out I can tell you.
Aparantly it is very popular with the locals on the weekend, so go mid week if you can.
There is an adminssion fee and a motorbike parking fee so too.
Day trips to Ba Ho Waterfall
If you don't want to hire a bike, day trips in and around Nha Trang are affordable. Try this day trip to Ba Ho Waterfall instead.
Long Son Pagoda and The White Buddha
Long Son Pagoda, also known as Chua Long Son, is located at the base of Trai They Mountain in the city. This Google maps location will help you to navigate to the Pagoda. Famous for both its large White Buddha statue and the long Reclining Buddha, Long Son Pagoda is actually the home to the Vietnamese Budhhist Studies Foundation and has been since 1936.
Origanlly constructed in 1886 the whole complex was destroyed by a cyclone in 1990. It was restored in full however was built further down the hill than the original site.
It is a working monastery also hosting a school for monks on site. The gardens around the temple are decorated by some amazing potted plants. While I'm not sure you could call them Bonsai they are very much in that theme.
Past the Temple you head up stone steps to get to the base of the 24 meter white Buddha. From the base of the White Buddha, there is a great view out over Nha Trang and the coastline.
You can also see the reclining Buddha who is set in front of a scene that I've been told depicts images of monks and nuns protesting against the Diem regime in the late 50's. I've also been told that this scene shows the 49 disciples of the Buddha who gathered on the day Buddha passed away. I have tried to find out which is true but so far have been unsucessful. I would also like to know that the images on the on the soles of his feet mean. Again I've been unable to find out so would love to know.
There is also a very cool cemetary on site. I love cemetaries. To me they represent how much a person was loved. I am always impressed that relatives and friends visit and maintain the graves and gravestones of loved ones so to me cemetaries aren't sad places. They are places of great love.
Tours that visit Long Son Pagoda
Go on an Island and Snorkelling Tour in Nha Trang
The second day we headed out for a boat trip to the islands. Get Your Guide has this Nha Trang Snorkelling tour which seems very close to what we did.
We visited a large island community that is based on fishing and had a great morning wondering around the village, taking photos and talking to all the kids. From the island we got bamboo boats back to our main boat. I say bamboo boats but they are really large round bathtub like creations that are made from woven bamboo and then cased in mud to seal them. They actually come is varying sizes believe it or not and some of the fishermen go quite a way out from the land in them. It is calm waters, but even still – they are just baskets that float!
These bowl boat skippers (read little sun conscious ladies) have this unique paddling action that stops you spinning like a top and they can get quite fast surprisingly. They are used for fishing close to the land and of course ferrying tourists now!
They are having as much fun as we are and there is lots of hooting and laughing.
Suffice to say, I was just glad that I didn't land on my arse in the water (which if you know me at all, not falling in the drink is quite the achievement!)
The jetty on the main island we visited was set up as a holding pen for octopus that the fisherman must catch. It was so cool being able to see the Occy's just swimming around in the water. This fellow was trying very hard to attract our attention, splashing and carrying on which made me wonder if they have exceptional eye sight. If anyone knows I'd love to hear about it.
From there Brad and I headed out to a snorkeling spot and to get in the water. Unfortunately it wasn’t a great day so our snorkeling was ordinary at best, but the water was lovely and once you got your head around a very strong current, just being in the ocean was amazing. They always feed you so well on these boat trips and a great lunch of local seafood delicacies was a great touch.
NB: Snorkeling in the rain is great and I love it but if you have any kind of cloud cover it really affects the colors of not just the coral but also the fish. The same reef on a bright sunny day can be unrecognizable in overcast or rainy conditions.
Day Tours the Include Snorkelling in Nha Trang
Browse the Art and Craft Galleries in Nha Trang
The girls all did a tour to the mud baths the second day but I didn’t think my claustrophobia would cope too well with that so we just went wandering around Nha Trang.
We found this awesome gallery of local arts and crafts and particularly the Vietnamese Embroidery. You have never seen anything like this. The gallery is full of what you initially think are photos but when you get close they are the finest, best quality embroidery you have ever seen. The most amazing ones are done on an organza like fabric which is see through, so you can see the embroidery from both sides and each side is equally perfect. Anyone who has ever seen a traditional embroidery knows that the back side is quite often a mess, but the fact that these women can do something so fine and so perfect, that is visible from both sides is truly amazing.
Most of the pieces you probably wouldn't have in your home (OK well I wouldn't) but you are just in awe of the quality. Luckily we found a great piece that was actually in the embroidery frame to show the process and it was only 90% finished. So we managed to talk them into giving us that one. Well selling it to us. It’s only black and greys and it’s a simple fisherman casting his net. All but the net are done but it has the pencil outline for the net on the fabric and we loved it. So I’ve got to create an appropriate frame to display it which should be fun.
Try the Nha Trang Street Food
Street food in Vietnam changes quite drastically from zone to zone. While most is based around some kind of vermicelli noodles, each different region has their own spin on things. Nha Trang street food is (not surprisingly) based around seafood and Bún Chả Cá is the dish of the region. Bún Chả Cá is pretty much a noddle soup with fried fish on the side but its not that simple.
Its not sweet per se, however the broth is quite light in taste and while it is fish broth, its not fishy. They use both onion and pineapple along with the fish to make the broth which is what makes it sweet. They serve you the broth with fried fish on the side, on the top, or even in the soup depending on the cook. They also asked us frequently if we wanted “salad” with it and finally I said yes, which saw the soup and fish arrive with a plate of delicious vegetables in almost like a vinegar dressing. If you've not had this dish you have to try it in Nha Trang. OMG it was so delicious.
Can Cake (Bánh Căn) is one of the strangest things to have to describe, but one of the yummiest things you will ever eat. Its made from something that to me is inbetween cake and pancake. It's closer to pancake than cake but its the fillings or toppings that make it sound strange. All around Nha Trang there are (mostly) women sitting in doorways or with little carts making & pouring batter (that's the word I was looking for!) into muffin style tins. They cook them over these little stoves and about half way through the cooking process you choose what toppings you would like. Now I know it seems like you should be picking condensed milk or chocolate or honey but no, you choose from things like prawns, squid, fish or even beef. They then put the topping on the cake to finish cooking and serve it to you with a little container of fish sauce and green mango on the side. You dip the Can Cake in the sauce and eat it with the mango. It is just divine and one of the best sweet and savoury foods I've ever eaten. It's right up there with salted caramel gnochi. YES that is also a real thing but sadly not in Nha Trang.
These were two of my fave dishes in Nha Trang but you should also try:
- prawn and squid pancake (Bánh xèo tôm mực Nha Trang)
- fried Pork Roll ( Nem nướng) or
- jellyfish Vermicelli Noodle (Bún sứa)
The jellyfish is better than you think its going to be and not a strong taste at all.
Most of these foods are easy to find and as they are pretty much all cooked in front of you, fine to eat. OMG now I want Can Cake!
There are lots more things to see and do in Nha Trang but some I would avoid. The do run trips to the salt mines so you can get photos of piles of salt and the Vietnamese women carrying these huge loads on their shoulders but that seem very exploitive to me. There is also quite a few Spas and of course the mud baths which are very popular. You can also combine a few of these destinations into a single day tour and sit back and let someone else to the driving. Whatever you decide its easy to fill a few days in Nha Trang and of course if you feel like some true RnR – there's the beach!
Accommodation options for Nha Trang.
There are so many places to stay in Nha Trang varying from budget 2 start hotels all the way up to 5 star resorts.
Map of Accommodation in Nha Trang
Tips for Nha Trang:
- Get out and about – there's lots outside the actual town
- Grab a boat trip, especially one over to the island, its a great morning out.
- Avoid the big hotels – as usual very expensive.
- Don't be scared to go into a arts and crafts store. Sure they would like to sell you something but the quality of the work is a must see.
- Evening is when most things get really pumping so plan a quiet day and ramp it up on dusk.
Check out my Vietnam Destination Page for all the info, posts & places to visit in Vietnam.