Nha Trang attracts throngs of Russian and Chinese tourists for a good reason – it’s a gorgeous Vietnamese beach city with the longest coastal walkway and park system I’ve seen on our travels so far. But I consider the most intriguing finds to be away from those tourists and where they congregate.
The usual tourist spots include the small Hon Chong Beach and the Tran Phu beach parallel to the tourist zone some blocks across the street with shops, restaurants, hotels, and foot massage parlors. Another hot spot for tourists and expats is the main market a few blocks inland called Cho Dam, and also big box store complex (like a Walmart with a small mall) a couple kilometers inland called Big C.
The following four alternatives to those touristy spots are better, in my view, because they still are in Nha Trang, but they are far enough from crowds that you won’t hear random bits of Russian or Chinese conversations.
1. Bach Dang Park instead of Tran Phu (and Central Park)
Locals go here to barbecue and swim, as there are no restaurants or chairs on the beach. Bring your towel, and buy a snack at a small family-run shop across the street from the park. Sunscreen and hat are good ideas, since there is no shade on the beach – but you can find shade up in the park, adjacent to the beach.
Bach Dang Park and beach are in town – you don’t need a day trip or half a day to get to a beach outside the city limits, such as Doc Let. When we went, Doc Let was covered in plastic beyond the restaurant zone. But Bach Dang is cleaned by Nha Trang city crews.
I felt comfortable enough to take a quick topless dip because no one was too close to us on the beach at the time. Also, we could float away to our heart’s content, because no one was near us in the water
In contrast, short walk to the north, you will hit the “Central Park” area and Tran Phu Beach. This place packs out with Russians in the late afternoon. It’s like Jones Beach in New York on the hottest July Sunday you can imagine.
To get Bach Dang, take the number 4 bus, and tell the bus attendant where you are going. A Google map is here.
2. Cho bau Vinh Tho instead of Cho Dam
Cho bau Vinh Tho Market is a small, local market with staples like fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, a few clothing stands (not tourist garb), a few household supply stands, and that’s about it. But it’s magical compared to the plastic piles of souvenirs you see at Cho Dam. Do not skip Cho Dam — it’s a cool place to visit, to be sure. But if you want to see how a local neighborhood market really operates, and get better prices, go to Cho bau Vinh Tho. I went here several times, and never saw another tourist.
Buses 4, 5, 6, 7 go by Cho bau Vinh Tho. A Google map is here.
Another option is the Vinh Hai Market. This one is bigger than Cho bau Vinh Tho, but smaller and less touristy than Cho Dam. You might be able to find everything you need here, instead of Big C. Vinh Hai does have a few tourist-related items like beachwear and souvenirs, but not nearly as much as Cho Dam, and there were few tourists here in my experience.
Buses 6 and 7 go by Vinh Hai. A Google map is here.
There are many more markets around Nha Trang – these are just two I experienced. Don’t be afraid to wander outside the tourist areas and discover hidden market gems on your own!
3. Independent coffee shops instead of chains
I am guilty of visiting chain coffee stores in Vietnam, only because it was where my friends arranged to meet, and so I went. That said, I prefer the small mom-and-pop places — the kinds without throngs of tourists, of course.
You won’t see any Starbucks or McDonald’s in Nha Trang (which is freaking awesome), but two Vietnamese chains are all over — Highlands and Iced Coffee. These are similar to Starbucks, with air conditioning and free WiFi. But at some smaller shops, you can get a single cup of strong, authentic, Vietnamese coffee brewed right in front of you. And that’s really the best way to experience coffee, dontchyathink?
And early warning! As of this writing, there is a new coffee shop getting ready to open on the Cai River. It will be located at a homestay currently listed on Google, Booking.com, and Airbnb. I met the Israeli man and Vietnamese family who will run it – and they are a bunch of fantastic people. Not only that, but look at the beautiful garden on the grounds!
Tedly and I were lucky enough to be invited to a party here and we had a spectacular time! You might be able to rent the grounds for special events – it doesn’t hurt to ask.
You must take a taxi, Grab, or motorbike here. While it’s only a couple of miles from downtown Nha Trang the way the bird flies, but cars have to go along way around for a bridge. Oh – and there’s a small village between the bridge and this property. Tourists hardly go there and we got some funny looks – but we were treated warmly and we were welcomed, just as we have been everywhere we’ve gone in Vietnam so far.
A Google map of Colours Land Home – and great reviews from homestay guests – can be found here.
4. Hon Do instead of the Promontory
Ho Do Island is easy to reach and we were the only tourists there for an hour one afternoon. It’s a great place to get a skyline shot of the Central Park area of Nha Trang, and also the Hon Chang area because the island is further out in the water than the more popular Hon Chang Promontory. We went in the late afternoon – so our water and rock shots are lit well, but early morning sun will light up your city shots
With the island all to ourselves (and the monks at the pagoda), we enjoyed a photo shoot without any other tourists, and a picnic lunch with only the sounds of the sea. There are a few benches in the shade, and some shady areas provided by the large rocks.
We paid a boater a couple of bucks for a round-trip ride. He dropped us off and came back an hour later. The ride takes all of five minutes.
The number 4 bus goes by the entrance. Tell the attendant where you want to go. When you get off the bus, find the entrance to the boaters, which doesn’t look like much. You might see people drying seaweed for sale on the path out to the boats. (See picture.)
A Google map is here
Hon Do beats the Hon Chang Promontory, where buses filled with tourists constantly go. It’s all about the selfie shot at those rocks, and people are in a hurry to get their shot and get back to the bus, just like any other famous tourist spot.
Whatever you do — just get out of the tourist zone!!
Do anything away from the tourists. Take a local bus and see where it goes; roam on a bicycle through alleys and side streets; stay in a shack instead of a hotel. This is the best part of travel — to discover new things and experience new places. Tourist zones can make one feel like they never left home. Be a traveler and let the tourists jockey for ‘InstaNothing’ shots.