When travelling Vietnam, stopping off in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi are justifiably easy to fit into an itinerary; however, many find themselves in a dilemma when trying to choose a coastal city to visit. And this task about is mainly Nha Trang vs Hoi An. The two most debated choices are Nha Trang and Hoi An—and for a good reason.
Both of these cities offer a fantastic array of beaches, activities, and sights for a traveller in Vietnam to enjoy. Having said that, there are significant differences between each city that set them apart. Someone who enjoys Hoi An may not feel the same way about Nha Trang, and for travellers on a timeline, a choice between these two destinations needs to be made. We at Hidden have laid out the offerings of each city to help you make a decision.
A southeastern coastal city that lies just over 400 kilometres north of Ho Chi Minh, Nha Trang is full of energy and has become increasingly popular with tourists in recent years. Past the high-rises is the six-kilometre stretch of beach that Nha Trang is so well known for. Looking just a bit further are nine islands that dot the coastline and await keen snorkelers, divers and booze cruise seekers. Even though the sun does go down over Nha Trang, it doesn’t mean the city goes to sleep with it. Late night lounges, bars, and clubs amp up throughout the city making it a highly sought-after destination for party enthusiasts.
Tran Phu, Nha Trang’s main beach, faces the east sea and has been the driving force behind the city’s development. It appears as an endless stretch of fine golden sand bordering turquoise waters. One of the big reasons this beach is so famous for travellers is that regardless of if you’re staying in a five-star resort or a backpacker hostel, the beach is no more then a 15-minute walk away.
Just before the beach is a clean and popular promenade full of tourists and locals. You can find vendors of all kinds walking around and selling their wares. The beach itself offers a range of options for shore-bound travellers, including tiki bars, water toy rentals, snacks, drinks, and women offering massages.
Shaded lounge chairs are plentiful amongst the sand and are found in clusters. Due to the number of water sports that Nha Trang hosts, there are roped off areas in the water to provide safe areas for swimming. For those looking to go beyond the main beach, Nha Trang also offers a few alternate beach options that are a short drive away.
Hidden Hint: The initial asking price for the use of a chair is extremely high and is aimed at the affluent tourists in the city. Bargaining can bring the price down easily by 70% of what they’re asking, and if you don’t find yourself happy with the price, there are more vendors to choose from close by.
Culture: This is a biggest part of nha trang vs hoi an
Local Vietnamese culture can be somewhat tricky to find in Nha Trang compared to other cities. With big hotel brands buying up real estate and a steady stream of money flowing in, local culture is often an afterthought for many competing residents and business owners. The city has developed with the mentality of catering to the masses of tourists that frequent the area, and not for the people living there. At this time, it’s Russian tourism that’s the real financial force behind most of the establishments.
Having said that, if you choose to push past the large hotels and the dizzying amount of massage parlours, there is a local side of the city that is welcoming. Local food, markets, and cafes are like a halo around the city that the majority of tourists, unfortunately, don’t bother exploring. While some of these are within walking distance, the more comfortable way to explore them would be to rent a scooter for the day.
Also within a short distance of the central hub are the ruins of a Cham complex from between the seventh to the twelfth century. It draws in tourists looking to add a historical highlight to their time in Nha Trang.
While the city houses some delicious local specialities, they’re few and far between. Street food isn’t something commonly found throughout the city centre, with the bulk of the food existing in restaurants concentrated in the city core being aimed at tourists. It’s safe food to eat, but unmemorable. Seafood, on the other hand, is excellent in Nha Trang, as there are many restaurants with tubs of live fish and shellfish for the picking. The downside is that it’s rather costly.
Local specialities in and around Nha Trang are worth seeking out. A local highlight of the city is nem nuong, a grilled fermented pork roll that is usually the star of a D.I.Y. meal. To find it though, you’ll need to leave behind the touristy core and head to a more local-friendly area. Another local speciality worth trying is Nha Trang’s version of banh xeo, a sizzling rice pancake that has the addition of squid. Others to watch out for are banh can (can cake), bun sua (jellyfish noodles), and bun cha ca (grilled fish noodles).
The true heart and rhythm of the city lie within the nightlife that comes to life every evening. From long-term neighbourhood gems filled with backpackers to the new rooftop establishments aimed at the affluent tourists—this city has it all. The scene initially started with backpackers coming through to enjoy the picturesque beach and has since escalated high above the city to the rooftops and along the beachfront in the form of hip lounges.
The majority of the bars are located in the southern end of the city, with nightclubs, lounges, craft breweries, and rooftop bars speckled throughout. Although famed for the nightlife, the closing times vary quite a bit. Many bars are open until 2 a.m., some even all night, but quite a few places can close around 11 p.m. or 12 a.m.
If you’re looking for a more family-friendly scenario, The Nha Trang Water Puppet Theatre is a good option. The show portrays the life of a Vietnamese farmer with colourfully decorated puppets. While this is an excellent choice for children, it’s also a good choice for people looking to understand local beliefs. While the there is a night market that opens every night, it’s quite small and tends to be full of items aimed solely for tourists.
Ba Ho waterfall
25 kilometres north of the city is a set of three waterfalls called Ba Ho Waterfall. Clambering over boulders and up short paths are required to reach each of the falls. The waterfall complex is family-friendly, though—how far you go is up to you. There are picnic benches a short distance from the parking lot with shallow water, but this depends heavily on rainfall. The falls are a great spot to cool off if you grow tired of the beach.
Since the first mud spa opened its doors in 1999 at Thap Ba Hot Spring Centre, a crop of establishments have come around offering the magic mud to travellers in need. The natural muck is said to leave you feeling rejuvenated and smooth. For pricing, there are plenty of options ranging from affordable communal tubs to costly private package sessions.
It’s hard to miss the Hollywood style signage on Hon Tre Island across from the city. Vinpearl is easily reached from the mainland by a cable car that spans the 3320-metre distance over the ocean. It’s supported by nine pillars and is the longest over-water cable car system in the world. The park is large and offers a multitude of choices to fill a day. Vinpearl is home to an array of different water slides, roller coasters, arcades, and rides catering to different age groups.
About 60 kilometres north of Nha Trang lies the popular dive spot of Whale Island. You can stay overnight here at the islands singular resort, Whale Island Eco Resort. The dive shop Rainbow Divers are located here, and they can organise tours for you. We noted that the coral reef here has started to bleach a bit so is not as colourful as what you can find elsewhere, but there are still plenty of sea creatures to see.
Location and accessibility
Nha Trang is the capital of the Khanh Hoa Province and is situated on the south central coast of Vietnam. It can easily be reached by Cam Ranh Airport, which is 35 kilometres south of the city centre and is frequented by city buses and taxis. Located within the city is the train station, while 500 metres west lies the intercity bus station. It’s worth mentioning that the majority of the buses to and from Nha Trang pick up and drop off downtown when you book through a tour company.
The famous city of Hoi An is located on Vietnam’s central coast, roughly 30 kilometres south of Da Nang. It’s a historical and cultural gem, with the Old Town being in an extraordinary state of preservation—this is mainly due to luck and the cooperation from both sides in the Vietnam war. Hoi An lacks many of the modern issues faced by other urban areas, such as congestive traffic and high pollution levels. Furthermore, the distances within the city cater to walking. You’ll even be hard pressed to find a building over four stories in the Ancient Town. Only a short distance out of the city are lush rice fields and enjoyable beaches that are still relatively quiet.
Hoi An is also known as a food Mecca, with local dishes reigning supreme over what some believe as tourist-friendly options. Equally as renowned in town are the crop of tailors that occupy most of the shops. Custom fitted clothing is a massive draw for people when visiting Hoi An.
Roughly four to six kilometres from the centre of Hoi An you’ll find the city’s three beautiful sandy beaches—An Bang Beach, Hidden Beach, and Cua Dai Beach. Each beach has its personality, and they are all clean, relatively quiet, and offer refreshing relief from the heat of Hoi An. The beaches are all in a row, making it quite easy to bounce between them if you have a bicycle or a motorbike. All three spots are equipped with shaded beach chairs (prices vary) and restaurants. For more in-depth information on the beaches of Hoi An, check out our article here.
If you’re looking for a more remote experience, just a boat ride away are the Cham Islands. Clear turquoise water and local island life, along with snorkelling and diving await the Hoi An traveller.
Hoi An has a healthy mix of cultural attractions and local culture. Although it is a tourist-driven city, with many new shops and cafes popping up regularly, it still manages to retain a strong local presence. Street food and local delights are easy to find, along with many bustling markets where Hoi An’s residents do their daily shopping.
Much of Hoi An’s cultural attractions lie within its historic district, also known as Old Town. This self-contained area has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and holds many cultural highlights within, including cultural museums, old residential houses, the famous Japanese Bridge, Chinese assembly halls, and the ancient tombs of Japanese traders. These can all be visited by purchasing a ticket to the Old Town. What this ticket covers and where to buy them can be found here.
Hoi An, the tailoring capital of Vietnam, has countless tailor shops that line the busy streets of this small city. This is due to Hoi An’s past, where the city acted as a trading port on the silk route. The talented staff can whip up anything you desire, including suits, coats, shirts, dresses, and even wedding gowns—all for a fraction of the cost that you would spend back home. You can pick your fabric from the many options on display, choose your personal style from their catalogues or from a photo you bring in, and you can even replicate existing clothes you own. As there are many shops to choose from, it’s wise to do your research beforehand and learn from other people’s experiences.
The city is a food Mecca when it comes to its specialities—they’re local, prevalent, and you won’t need to walk far for a good meal. Throughout the Old Town, restaurants and food carts dish up delights that tantalise the tongue and fill the stomach. Even as you venture further away from the borders of the well-preserved buildings, finding good food will not be difficult. Street food, in particular, plays a strong role in the food scene.
The city is very well known for a few dishes such as cao lau— a thick noodle served with pork, greens and a savoury pork dressing in the bottom, and com ga—a chicken and rice dish that was brought over by the Chinese but has evolved to fit the region. White rose, banh xeo (sizzling rice pancake), xuc banh trang (baby clams with rice cracker) are others to watch out for. We’ve done a whole article on the joys of Hoi An speciality food for you to try here.
Even though local food dominates menus, finding more familiar options is also readily available. With the number of tourists that frequent the area, a good burger, pizza, and pasta are still easily found. To learn more about the food of Vietnam check out our Vietnamese food overview.
Decorated with colourful lanterns and set along the Thu Bon River, Hoi An is an incredibly gorgeous place to wander around at night. With the Old Town being a pedestrian-only zone in the evenings, it becomes a leisurely spot to walk. Get lost in the alleyways, hop in and out of shops, and discover all that the ancient town has to offer. There are countless cafes, street food stalls, cool bars, art galleries, clothing stores, and souvenir shops to visit. Keep in mind, bars do shut early in Hoi An, with most closing down at 12 a.m. You can always head down to An Bang beach if you want to party a little longer.
Not only is the town lit up with pretty lanterns, but the river is too. It sparkles with colourful lights as the lanterns float away with the current. You can buy a lantern yourself, from one of the many vendors, and set it afloat on the water. Further, immerse yourself in the beautiful atmosphere and take a river cruise or a boat ride.
Available in most of Vietnam’s cities with Hoi An being no exception is the Water Puppet show. Unique and colourful entertainment for both kids and adults, this show is often accompanied by live musicians. Additionally, just a stone throw away across the bridge to An Hoi is the night market. This market is packed with street food and drinks, as well as countless souvenirs.
A popular trip to take is one from Hoi An is to the Cham Islands, located just a 15-kilometre boat ride away. This cluster of eight picturesque islands makes a beautiful excursion whether you decide to make a day trip or spend the night. In the past, the islands were restricted by the military, but have since opened their doors to visitors. The islands offer breathtaking snorkelling and diving opportunities, a taste of the local culture, deliciously fresh seafood, and prime beach relaxation.
My Son Sanctuary
My Son Sanctuary’s temples are the remaining ruins left from a fascinating complex of Hindu temples. They were constructed by the Champa and had since been declared a UNESCO heritage site due to their cultural and historical significance. These unique temples are located roughly 38 kilometres south of Hoi An and can be reached by many tour companies or with your transport.
Do note that the temples aren’t in the best condition due to intense bombing from the war, with only 20 of nearly 70 original structures now remaining. Along with the ruins, there is an interesting museum situated at the entrance that houses artefacts and old photographs of the temples. For a more in-depth article on My Son Sanctuary, read our guide here.
Located 19 kilometres north of Hoi An are a beautiful group of five marble and limestone mountains—named after the five elements: metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. Marble Mountains has many caves, shrines, temples, and scenic viewpoints that overlook Vietnam’s breathtaking countryside and coast. At the base of the mountains is Non Nuoc Village, famous for stone sculptures and handicrafts. For an in-depth guide to visiting the Marble Mountains, check out our article here.
Location and accessibility
Hoi An is situated on the central coast of Vietnam. The closest airport to this historic city is in Da Nang, located 30 kilometres north of Hoi An. To get there a taxi or the shuttle bus that runs hourly is your best bet. Hoi An’s small bus station is northwest of Old Town and has departures to the north and south. Do note that the city isn’t accessible by train, with the closest stations located in Da Nang and Tam Ky. If you’d like to explore a range of options to get to Hoi An, we’ve covered them in this article.
Now, you have everything you need to know if you have to choose between these two amazing coastal cities. While both places have great day trips and the possibility of spoiling yourself, we’ve pulled together the main differences to consider when it comes to Nha Trang vs Hoi An to help make your travel plans easier.
- Is a polished urban city filled with large hotels and restaurants aimed at tourists.
- One of the best beaches in the country is within walking distance, regardless of where you choose to stay in Nha Trang.
- The nightlife is boozy and there are many bars and clubs to choose from.
- Things are slightly more expensive due to the demographics of people that spend time here.
- You have to search a little harder for true local culture.
- It’s a historic and cultural food mecca in Vietnam.
- There are more budget-friendly accommodations.
- While drinking is something to partake in, it isn’t as big as in Nha Trang.
- The city is smaller, which makes walking or biking easier and more enjoyable
- The beaches aren’t within walking distance of the Old Town, but driving options are cheaper and more accessible
- Getting tailored clothes is affordable and a popular thing to do.
Nha Trang images courtesy of @johnmwu