Nha Trang is more about the beach than juicy cultural day trips or treks, but a few diversions exist. See below for info (in order) on snorkel trips, diving trips, Po Nagar Cham Towers, Alexandre Yersin Museum, the National Oceanographic Institute and one very big Buddha. (If time’s short, see the Nha Trang One-Day Planner.)

Snorkel Trips

Diving cartoon, Nha TrangOf many options around town, MAMA LINH (tel 058-522-844; 23C Biet Thu St) is a local institution for zany, quite popular, snorkel trips (US$5.60 per person) with big wood boats packed with 45 people stopping at Mun, Mot, Tam and Mieu islands for snorkel spots, ‘floating bars’ and aquariums – plus a free lunch. Trips get back to Nha Trang by 4.30pm. Says one staff member: ‘You can get very drunk.’ There’s a drum set you can play at the ticket office.

Higher-end hotels arrange their own PRIVATE SNORKEL TRIPS (about US$35 per person for a group of two or three). Consider taking one to different locations than the budget snorkel trips, or at different times. Generally the best spot is the southwest side of Mun Island in the morning, depending on conditions. Other good spots include Moray Beach and Rainbow Reef. Agree on where you’re going before heading off.

Diving Trips

Nha Trang has many diving outfits, some have bad reputations. I’ve heard of divers being stranded and picked up by another boat! Apparently some diving shops here have been removed from PADI.

A long-time reliable choice is RAINBOW DIVERS (tel 058-524-351;; 90A Hung Vuong St), with a range of dives and courses. A two-tank dive runs US$42.50 (from 7am to 1pm, including equipment and snacks).

Another good choice is SAILING CLUB DIVERS (tel 058-522-788; [email protected]; 72-74 Tran Phu St).

Po Nagar Cham Towers

Cham Tower, Nha TrangSituated on one of the choice spots in town, overlooking the colorful boats docked in the Cai River, this compact Cham site features four red-brick towers (of 10 original) atop a limestone cliff. The site may have been founded as far back as the 2nd century, but what you see today was built from the 8th to 13th centuries. Traditionally, ‘Po Nagar’ is a goddess important to both the Cham and Vietnamese. The myth goes that the goddess got caught stealing melons – no jokes about the breast motifs, seen around the site – by villagers, who adopted her rather than punish her; in return, Po Nagar saved the village from a flood then floated away to heaven as a piece of wood. You can see her sandstone likeness inside the tallest, and most impressive, tower, the namesake 23m Po Nagar Tower (aka Thap Ba, aka North Tower). It dates from 817, though the statue is a replacement of the gold original (added in 965). Note the bas-relief of the Hindu goddess Uma outside the door. There’s a small museum in back. Sometimes Cham musicians play outside the towers, but the most festive time to be here is during the Po Nagar Festival, held on the 23rd day of the third lunar month.

The site – visible from afar – is across the Xan Bong Bridge. The easiest way to get there is go north on beachfront Tran Phu St over the Tran Phu Bridge, then left at the light at Thap Ba St.
2 Thang 4 St, at Thap Ba St; admission US$0.65; open 6am-6pm daily

Mud Baths

Mud baths, Nha TrangFor a couple hours of sloppy soothing relaxation in hot mud rich in sodium silicate chloride (um, it’s good for you and your skin), venture a few kilometers northwest of Nha Trang center to THAP BA HOT SPRING CENTER. Various packages include walks with streams of hot water or the main attraction: private tubs that fit you and your friends in a thick pool of mud that’s pumped up from 100m below the surface. Vietnamese visitors can’t seem to get enough of it, particularly from 8am to 10am, or after 3pm (‘foreigners like to come at 11am or so,’ staff said). Soakings supposedly remove dead cells on your skin and ease the woes of stress or rheumatism. There’s an array of options. For US$3.75 (option three), you soak in a collective tub, and get to walk through mineral-water spray, soak in the pore-opening 40-degree (Celsius) pool and bask under the ‘waterfall.’ A private tub is about US$6 to US$10 depending on the number of people in your group (up to four). To get there, follow the sign 100m past the Cham site.
Tel 058-835-335;; 15 Ngoc Son St; open 7am-7.30pm daily

Alexandre Yersin Museum

Housed in the gold Pasteur Institute on the beachfront Tran Phu St, this fun little museum brings to light a guy most non-French people don’t know about. A Louis Pasteur disciple, and life-long scientist, Yersin discovered the plague bacillus in 1894, around the time he founded this institute. He’s also responsible for Dalat being born – suggesting a hill town would be beneficial considering its temperate, soothing climate. The small, well air-conditioned museum concisely tells how Alex went from his Swiss birth to speak Vietnamese (in French and English). Exhibits are filled with interesting century-old knick-knacks – like an 1863 calculating machine and 3-D photo devices. It’s unlike any other museum in the country and certainly worth 30 minutes to give your sunburn a break. The shop sells Yersin shirts if you really get taken in. It’s across from northern stretch of the main beach, next to the Sunrise Beach Resort.
10 Tran Phu St; admission US$1.60; open 7-11am & 2-4.30pm Mon-Fri, 7-11am Sat

National Oceanographic Institute

Near the Cau Da docks, several kilometers south of Nha Trang center, this huge institute opens its doors for a fun look at shark and moray eel tanks, starfish to touch, and close-ups of many local exotic fish you’re unlikely to spot on a snorkeling trip. There are some 80,000 test tubes with icky amoeba and mollusks to peer at too. Don’t miss the 18th-century skeleton of a du gong (sea cow, or manatee), near a few paintings of mermaids – and why wouldn’t there be? The placard claims similarities between the two ‘because of its reproductive organ form.’ Um, TMI?
1 Cau Da St; admission US$1;open 6am-6pm daily

The Big Buddha

The 19th-century Long Son Pagoda is often visited for its enormous white Buddha, sitting atop the hill 152 steps up. It’s about 600m west of the beach. Go there via Le Thanh Ton St , which becomes Thai Nguyen St after a roundabout, then 23 Thang 10 St. It’s on your right.