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The moment we stepped off the overnight but from Saigon, I felt lighter. The city had weighed on me, leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth and smog in my lungs. But Nha Trang makes an excellent first impression: warm ocean air, shining sun, and a friendly tourist vibe. I was ready for a vacation from traveling.

Little did we know how hard it would be to leave Nha Trang. In total, we would spend nearly a week of our preciously short time in Vietnam hanging out and exploring this slice of coastline. Nha Trang is a resort town that manages to combine high-rise hotels with a laid back backpacker scene. There are great restaurants, endless to-do’s, and some of the country’s best nightlife. Best of all, everything is super affordable, from the clean and air conditioned $8 a night hotel room we scored to the $1 happy hour buckets we sipped on the beach.

There is so much to share, but here’s a taste of what we got up to in Nha Trang:

The Beach

Unfortunately, we arrived in Nha Trang during the three month “rainy season.” And while we didn’t see a drop of rain in our entire time there, the water wasn’t the clear blue of postcards but rather muddied by run-off from the mountains. We are pretty lucky in that we get to see a lot of beautiful beaches with our current lifestyle, so we were more interested in playing in the massive waves than staring at a crystal bay.

And powerful waves they were. I haven’t been pushed around like that in the water since I was a child playing in the Martha’s Vineyard surf. After one particularly rough run-in with a wave, I ended up with sand-burn on my shoulder that started to bleed!

The beach is popular but large and therefore doesn’t feelย  overcrowded. There are many restaurants on the sand willing to deliver straight to your beach chair, or you can simply order fresh seafood, nearly straight from the source.

We spent an entire day in Nha Trang at the beach, just playing in the waves, renting boogie boards, and swimming at the Louisiana Brewhouse pool. It was fun, and it was free, and it was just what we needed.

The National Oceanographic Institute

Later we would cough up $4 to rent a motorcycle for the day and explore some of Nha Trang’s sights. First on the list for these ocean lovers was the National Oceanographic Museum.

We had no idea what to expect, but with a $1 entry fee, we also didn’t have much to lose.

The first section was a bit disappointing as it lacked English signs and the water and tanks were pretty cloudy.

I was shocked by how close we were able to get to some of the animals like these seals and the massive sea turtles they seemed to be sharing an enclosure with.

The second section featured some exotic fish and also some English signage- which would turn out to be a source of great amusement.

Can you tell what Mark is peeking at in the tank below? They are stonefish, masters of camouflage and disguise.

We nearly died of laughter when we read the accompanying sign that- in addition to telling us about the size, distribution and characteristics of the stonefish- informed us that “stonefish flesh is very delicious.” We were most definitely in Vietnam.

Some other highlights included clownfish and the striking Picasso triggerfish.

I burst out laughing once again when we entered the next building of the aquarium, which featured a serious looking display about everyone’s favorite sea creature: the mermaid. This “museum” was getting more and more educational every minute.

The absurdity didn’t end there. First we walked by a card table “gift shop” that included trinkets made of shells and coral- a major ecological no-no. Then, we read yet another hilarious sign that brazenly told of the institute’s hard work breeding clown fish. Not for research purposes or anything, mind you. These fish were headed for pet shops and the aquarium trade.

The last building is by far the most unique aquarium exhibit I’ve ever seen- a room filled with endless rows of picked sea specimens, from the a thumb-sized seahorse to a seven-foot-long adult dugong (relative of the manatee). It was like a mermaid’s secret laboratory.

Upstairs the creepiness continued. Dried specimens (and what I hope were some replicas of dried specimens) filled the room. It was somewhat fascinating to see, but I must admit I prefer my creatures to be alive!

On the way out there was one last opportunity for the bizarre. Old missiles and war remnants were tarted up and painted like sea life, a wonderful metaphor for modern day Vietnam.

Oh, and then someone tried to rip us off by charging us for free parking. A most appropriate conclusion to the most peculiar museum/aquarium visit of my life.

Po Nagar Cham Towers

While Nha Trang is known more for it’s guilty pleasures than it’s historically significant sites, we decided on the fly to get our culture on at the Po Nagar Cham Towers. These towers were built between the 7th and 12th centuries, though the site has had religious significance since the 2nd century AD.

High on a hill and cooled by the breeze, we could immediately see why this peaceful spot was chosen for worship. Today it looks down onto the busy beach town of Nha Trang, but once upon a time the view of islands and ocean must have been inspiring.

The site is fairly small and you will only be able to enter the towers if you are dressed appropriately, which we unfortunately were not due to the impromptu nature of our visit.

The beautiful views, the peaceful atmosphere, the groups of chanting Buddhists, the beautiful architecture steeped with history- this was the Vietnam I had pictured in my head.

And the Nha Trang adventures continue…

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20 Comments...
  • Wow what an incredible place for a vacations from a vacation — trust me I’ve had a few of those in my life! Love that last picture of you.

    • Meihoukai
      January 8 2012

      Thanks Andi! Yes there is definitely a difference between a “vacation” and “travel.” Sometimes you just need a vacation!

  • mark boyd
    January 8 2012

    I love the post we really did have a blast in Nha Trang, and the photo of you is great!

    • Meihoukai
      January 8 2012

      Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚ Lots more Nha Trang blog love to come…

  • Dad
    January 9 2012

    I love the B and W of you. You looked relaxed and happy.

    • Meihoukai
      January 9 2012

      That seems to be a favorite ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll send you a copy.

  • Steve McKee
    January 9 2012

    Meihoukai:
    Great post!
    Best, most-obsrvant line:
    “Old missiles and war remnants were tarted up and painted like sea life, a wonderful metaphor for modern day Vietnam.”
    Terrific!
    Stv McK

    • Meihoukai
      January 9 2012

      Thanks Steve! Glad something good came out of the most bizarre aquarium on earth ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Fidel @IHarTravel
    January 15 2012

    Now I see why you asked if I have been to Nha Trang yet. Will definitely have to make time there. I think I will take two weeks vacation in Vietnam instead of Thailand next holiday. Just hard to catch when it is not rainy season somewhere there because the three regions of the country have three unique seasons at the same time, lol.

    • Meihoukai
      January 16 2012

      Well, you could solve that dilemma by being a super slow traveler like we are… we were in Vietnam nearly three weeks and only got as far North as Nha Trang!

  • theroamingcoconuts
    November 5 2013

    Great post!! We’re heading to Nha Trang in a few days. We also really love your blog layout.

    • Meihoukai
      November 7 2013

      Thanks, love your blog name ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Chirsta
    November 11 2015

    It seems that you picked the right place for your destination. Next time you should visit Mui Ne in Phan Thiet. That’s is one of my favorite destinations in Vietnam. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Meihoukai
      November 15 2015

      I’ve already been there ๐Ÿ™‚ Check my destinations page — you can find my blog posts about Mui Ne there!

  • Indigo
    December 12 2015

    Where did you stay while here? I’m heading there soon and can’t find anywhere cheap enough haha ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Meihoukai
      December 12 2015

      Sorry Indigo, I wansn’t such a comprehensive blogger back then and didn’t keep great records. Apologies I don’t remember!

  • Meihoukai Nguyen
    October 21 2016

    I love Nha Trang Beach but Quy Nhon is also a suggestion for you. Thank you for sharing with us your moments.

    • Meihoukai
      October 23 2016

      I haven’t heard of it before — thanks for the suggestion Meihoukai. I’ll keep it in mind if I return to Vietnam!

  • Pham Hoa Dang
    April 9 2018

    I love Nha Trang. It’s where i was borned. Love your posts
    Pham Hoa Dang recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 13 2018

      Thanks Pham! What a beautiful place to call home ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for reading!