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With a population of 300,000, Nha Trang is the closest thing to a European resort centre in Vietnam, but still retains its Vietnamese culture and its small town atmosphere. The city is flanked by nearly ten kilometres of prime beach and benefits from an all-year-round warm climate and an attractive archipelago of offshore islands. Further out in the South China Sea are the Spratly islands, mostly occupied by Vietnam but claimed by several south-east Asian countries including China.
The city is well-served by transport links. Both the railway and Highway 1 runs past, and a new international airport has just opened on the site of a wartime US airstrip at nearby Cam Ranh.
The beach is mostly backed by palms and firs, and a row of restaurants and cafes fronting on to a seafront road that runs the length of the city. Most of Nha Trang's hotels are on the landward side of the road and further back in the city. Notable exceptions are two up-market resort hotels, one a small establishment located on the seaward side of the beach road at its southern extremity, and the other much larger, hidden from view in a secluded bay on the far side of Hon Tre Island.
The sea is Nha Trang's main attraction. Warm and clear for most of the year, with sandy beaches and rocky islands with coral reefs, it has become the most popular destination in Vietnam for scuba diving, snorkelling, water sports and sunbathing. Boat trips around the bay and up the Cai River are also popular.
There's plenty of choice for places to eat – Vietnamese, Asian and international, and prices are good. The Louisiana Café does excellent pastries and has a good swimming pool free for customers. The Italian and Indian restaurants next to the Nha Trang Sailing Club are worth a visit.
The Po Nagar Cham Towers are an impressive sight. Built between the 7th and 12th centuries on a site overlooking the Cai River, it was used by Cham Hindus.
Not far from the Po Nagar Towers is the excellent Thap Ba Spa. Natural hot mineral water and mud is pumped up to feed a series of open-air mud baths and mineral showers on terraces on the mountainside. The baths and showers are a treat – unless you have a thing about privacy, the communal baths are the best deal by far. You don't need equipment: a towel and a baggy swimming costume comes as part of the package.
Once you've finished wallowing, there's a splendid hot mineral water pool to lounge in as long as you wish. Massage and body treatments are also available. All this is located in a gorgeous garden of paper trees and hibiscus. Not to be missed!
Bao Dai's Villa sounds an interesting place to stay, but the reality is a disappointment. The state rooms would have has a tremendous view in the Emperor's day, but now they look out at an ugly aluminium and glass restaurant.
The Long Son Pagoda is impressive inside and out. Above the pagoda on the top of a hill is. a giant seated Buddha that dominates the city. The 152 steps are worth the effort because the views are brilliant.
All around Nha Trang are references to the Dr. Alexandre Yersin, a Swiss-French microbiologist who lived much of his life in Nha Trang and is famous as the person who first identified the plague bacillus in 1894. The Pasteur Institute he founded is still active, and his library and office on the second floor is a museum.
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