Established as a port town in the 1920s, Nha Trang now has a population of 280,000, and serves as the capital of Khanh Hoa province. Fishing is the major industry. It is one of the nicest cities in southern Vietnam, blessed with lovely beaches, 19 beautiful surrounding islands and great ice cream! To meet the increasing number of local and foreign tourists, different kinds of hotels and guests houses have been built along the beachfront, intermingled with old French villas. It's pleasant to cycling in Nha Trang and the surroundings, since the city has wide boulevards and little traffic. On days where it is too warm to cycle, you should take a boat out to the islands for a day of snorkeling in turquoise water and coral reefs, have a fantastic seafood banquet for lunch, and return to town just in time to wander down to the beach for a late afternoon beer of fruit shake. A number of remarkable sights is in the suburb, of which we would recommend:
Po Nagar Cham Tower
On the north side of Nha Trang, across Xom Bong Bridge excited with red-blue fishing boats are the best-preserved Cham Towers in Central Vietnam, a sanctuary of Po Nagar, a mythical goddess. Among the 8 towers constructed between the 7th and 12th centuries, only 4 left and they are still used as places of worship. There is a group of nuns that may show you around with their best sign language and smiles and there is a small interesting museum to the right of the north tower displaying photographs and ancient statues. The hillock upon which the Cham Towers sit offers a great panorama of the surrounds and a view over the entrance to the river with Nha Trang as a background. The entrance to the site is at street level followed by a staircase uphill to the top. You will notice on the right of you way up the remains of the meditation hall, which was the original entrance for Cham worshippers. The north tower is the largest and main one situated on a higher level directly in front of the meditation hall. The other smaller towers are only metres away from this and all of them are facing due east. Remember to take off your shoes before entering any of the temples.
Hon Chong Headland
Due east of the Cham Towers are fishing villages, with a lot of boats move in and out of the surreal-looking bay by Xom Bong Bridge. A slippery fish market opens early in the morning. West of the Cham Towers is Hai Dao Island resort, a collection of cabins connected to the mainland by footbridges. Cockfights are sometimes staged here. To the northeast of the towers is Hon Chong Promontory where hundreds of boulders are balanced on top of one another. The massive boulder at the tip of the Promontory is call Chong Rock. Various legends are associated with this boulder which is said to bear the imprint of a large hand. Naturally, there are various (beautiful) look-outs with refreshment stalls are set around by the local people.
Pagodas and churches
On the northwest side of Nha Trang is Long Son Pagoda, and active Buddhist temple featuring and unusual red brass Buddha on a wooden lotus pedestal. On top of a hill behind the pagoda is the massive 9-m high white Buddha on a lotus throne. Embedded in the octagonal base are 7 stucco likeness of Buddhist martyr, monks, and nuns who died protesting the repressive Ngo Dinh Diem regime in southern Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Some of them have immolated themselves and the white Buddha was built in their memory in 1963.
On the other side of the tracks, east of the railway station is Nha Trang Cathedral, complete with stained glass windows and French Gothic lines. It was built in the 1930s and the daily masses are still held here in the early morning and late afternoon.
At the north end of Tran Phu Blvd. is the Pasteur Institute, with a small but fascinating Museum dedicated to the French Dr. Alexander Yersin (1863-1943). The Pasteur Institute was founded by Yersin in 1895, and he is probably one of the most respected French man in Vietnam. Being a Renaissance man, Yersin was not only famous for the pioneering medical research but was an explorer, botanist, biologist, and entomologist, and also interested in photography and astronomy. He explored the Da Lat area and recommended sitting a hill station there. He was also responsible for the introduction of rubber and quinine producing trees and discovered the microbe that caused the bubonic plague. This institute now performs research and produces vaccines. Within the Nha Trang institute, the office and library of Dr. Yersin are now open to the public and contain a small yet interesting collection of his equipment. It was on Yersin's recommendations that his laboratory in Nha Trang and Dr. Albert Calmette's laboratory in Saigon were upgraded to the level of Indochina Pasteur Institute, the 1st established outside Paris. Indochinese Pasteur Institutes later appeared in Hanoi and Da Lat, and microbiology labs opened in Hue, Vientiane and Phnompenh.
Further south - Phan Rang and Thap Cham
Phan Rang is actually a twin town, that is known as Phan Rang and Thap Cham. It is a small town on the coast with its main attraction being the Cham history and towers in the surrounding area. The Cham Empire thrived around Phan Rang from around the 8th century until it fell in the 17th century. The Phan Rang region is very dry, as it manages to avoid the summer and winter monsoons, and receives and average rainfall of only 60cm per year. The immediate area around Phan Rang is very beautiful and is spotted with grape gardens, and the best dragon fruit in Vietnam is meant to be grown in this area. Phan Rang marks the intersection of Highway 1 and the best road to Dalat from the coast.
Pklong Garai Cham Tower
The main attraction in Phan Rang is a small group of Cham towers which sit by the roadside 7 km towards Dalat. These towers were built in the early 14 century as Hindu temples during the Cham Empire and they are beautifully preserved. The towers were named after the King who invented a system of irrigation used in local villages. As the tourist buses from Nha Trang to Dalat pass through Phan Rang, the Cham towers are seen as a convenient place to break the journey. The result is that the towers are periodically swarmed by travelers heading north and south. You can enter the largest temple, in the center of which there is an ancient linga (phallic symbol) with a human face painted on it. The other towers still retain their shape and some of the carved details are clearly visible
One of the war vestiges left after the Vietnam War. The destruction of an entire village by Lieutenant Calley’s men is probably the best documented military atrocity on record. The massacre occurred on 16 April 1968, and 504 women, old men, children and babies were mindlessly slaughtered by Company C with almost no resistance. There is a museum here, with photos depicting the series of events on this horrific day. The atrocities occurred over different sites within a two or three square kilometers area. Walking among the fields, you occasionally come across a memorial plaque indicating the number of people that died on that spot. Lieutenant Calley was later court martialled and sentenced to life, but only served three of those years. Following the US Supreme Court’s refusal to hear his case, Calley was paroled. My Lai is about 15 km North of Quang Ngai.
Hill tribe villages
If you have some spare time it is worthwhile visiting the hill tribes. To get to the villages, take the road heading to Dalat and the Cham Towers. Before you reach the Cham Towers there is a gas station on the right hand side, turn right onto the dirt road before the gas station. The private road leads to different villages. The irrigation system used by the hill tribe people is interesting and can be seen when you explore the area