What brings everyone to Nha Trang is the big pond out front, better known as the Pacific. The waves are more or less a tumbling beachfront break on the best of days, and sea winds can whip up a real chop in the November-to-February monsoon season, but otherwise the beach is a great place for a dip or for lounging in the sun and forgetting it all. Beachside facilities abound, as the long 6km (3 3/4-mile) park area gets more and more developed with concrete paths and gardens. Nha Trang is a good place to grab a pay-by-the-day beach chair -- usually something like 30,000 VND or a promise to buy lunch works from smaller vendors. Also, the few large beachside places rent out chairs. Best is the Nha Trang Sailing Club (72-74 Tran Phu St.; tel. 058/352-4628), where you can order a delicious lunch or have drinks delivered all day. Just a hitch farther south is La Louisiane (Tran Phu; tel. 058/381-2948), which has a tidy little central pool and cafe area, rents shaded lounges for the day, and can arrange any kind of trip. The options below are good for getting out, stretching your legs, and earning some beach time, but don't feel bad about falling into a good novel and relaxing in Nha Trang -- that's what it's all about in this sprawling ocean city.
Diving & Snorkeling
Diving is big in Nha Trang. The best season for weather and visibility is from March to September. There are a number of professional operations, mostly staffed by expatriate divers and all certified with PADI. Whether you're a beginner or an expert, make your choice based on safety more than anything.
Because of years of large-scale dynamite fishing and bottom dragging, most of the best coral sites are long gone. Most dive trips head straight for Islands of the Hon Mun Marine Park. In fact, all of the dive companies surround just a few tiny islands, and it can get quite crowded (a drawback). Underwater life is a colorful mix of hard and soft coral and lots of aquatic life and Technicolor reef fish (for a close-up glimpse of Nha Trang's colorful undersea life without all the bulky gear and expense, head to the National Oceanographic Museum of Vietnam). Angelfish, clownfish, puffers, and all kinds of shellfish are in abundance. For less crowded dive sites, ask at Jeremy Stein's Rainbow Divers about their trips to Whale Island.
Expect to pay about $50 for a trial dive, and from $200 for a multiple-day open-water course. All operators listed below are open from 8am to 8pm.
1-Day Boat Cruises
One-day boat cruises to some of Nha Trang's 20 surrounding islands are very popular. For years, Nha Trang was famed for rowdy trips that were more like daytime raves. Hahn's Green Hat Boat Tour (2C Biet Thu St.; tel. 058/382-4494) is the old favorite, a remnant of the old "Mama Hahn" trips -- Mama Hahn was famous for saying, "Smoke and drink! Don't be lazy!" but is now doing a stint in jail for her industriousness. Though the trips have toned down significantly, you will want to ask details first and maybe leave the kids at home or opt for a private trip without all the "floating bars" and free mulberry wine. A number of other small agents offer similar tours (you can book these trips anywhere). The going rate is $7 per day, including a 9am hotel pickup and afternoon drop-off.
Expect a mellow day of motoring through some lovely bays. First, you'll hit Mun Island, where you're guaranteed some snorkeling, and then Mot Island, where you can enjoy a big feast for lunch and a floating bar (this is where the headache juice -- some bad grape wine -- comes into the picture). Beer and drinks are available all day. The next is Tam Island, where you can visit tiny Tam Resort and enjoy some free time for swimming and sunbathing, followed by a visit to Mieu Island, where you can rent a bamboo basket, those odd doughnut-shaped boats you see bobbing around fishing ports, and paddle around the bay with local fishermen. This last stop includes a visit to some large floating fish farms and information about the growing industry in Vietnam. Note: Just about everyone in town will want to book you on one of these tours, so ask at any hotel front desk and be sure to nail down all specifics (meals, transport included, and the like).
Other Water Activities
For sailing, contact the Nha Trang Sailing Club (tel. 058/352-4628), La Louisiane (Tran Phu south of Sailing Club; tel. 058/381-2948), or the Ana Mandara (tel. 058/352-2222). Go for a Hobie Cat, if it's available (about $30 per hour), and hire a captain if you're inexperienced. The strong ocean breezes and choppy waters make for a memorable sail. Runabouts and jet skis are also available at the same locations. Parasailing happens just south of La Louisiane.
The popular Thapba Mud Bath and Hotspring Resort is just outside town. Hire a car, ask at any front desk, or call them directly at tel. 058/383-4939.