Nha Trang

Nha Trang is Vietnam's beach resort town. A major face-lift in 1995-96, and the opening of two upscale hotels later in 1996, vaulted Nha Trang onto the playing field with places like Phuket, Thailand, and Cancun, Mexico. Today, it's a popular destination for both foreign and domestic tourists.

In addition to sun bathing, popular attractions include boat trips to the nearby islands and tours of Nha Trang's historic sites. If you like typical beach resort towns, then Nha Trang is for you.

Nha Trang is on the central coast, about 450 km north of Saigon and 1,200 km south of Hanoi. The main strip in Nha Trang is Tran Phu Street, which runs north-south along the sea for about 4 kilometers. It is a wide boulevard, bisected by a grassy median with street lamps. Numerous restaurants and bars line the beach side of Tran Phu, while hotels and more restaurants line the other. A walking path and wide swath of trees separate the beach from the road.

Not surprisingly, life in Nha Trang centers on the beach. In the early mornings and late afternoons, especially on weekends, you'll find the beach packed with locals. In addition to swimming, football (soccer) is a popular pastime, and you'll find numerous games in progress. During the heat of the day, the locals surrender the beach to mostly foreign sun-worshippers. In the evenings the beach is all but deserted.

When you tire of the beach, visit the nearby islands. Day trips are offered by just about every hotel and cafe. A typical itinerary includes visiting 2 or 3 islands, snorkeling and lunch, all for about US$8 per person. For serious snorkelers and divers who want to spend more time in the water, two local dive operators offer day trips from January to October.

Back on the mainland, there are a few worthwhile attractions in or near town. The towering white Buddha that can be seen from many parts of Nha Trang is part of the Long Son Pagoda and can be reached by climbing a steep (and long!) set of stairs. North of town, across the Nha Trang River, lies the Po Nagar Cham site. The ancient Cham towers sit high atop a hill; the views overlooking the river and town are breathtaking. A little beyond Po Nagar lies Hon Chong, a scenic beach that is reputed to have the best seafood in the area. South of town, check out Emperor Bao Dai's former holiday retreat, now a hotel

Every road leads to Nha Trang; well, actually there's only one road, National Highway 1, but you can also fly or take the train from just about anywhere in Vietnam. Some promoters boast that there is only one month of bad weather in Nha Trang, which is true if you don't mind rain and wind. Otherwise, plan to visit between January and August.

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