When we were planning our Vietnam itinerary, we read that both Mui Ne and Nha Trang were absolutely gorgeous beach destinations that “couldn’t be missed.” If you’ve been reading for awhile, I think you know by now that I don’t believe in must-see destinations, so I was curious whether we really needed to visit both cities. Lucky for you, we did, and I’m here to report on the outcome. (There are a few other well-known beach towns, but these two are the biggest and most accessible via the famed open bus route.)
Overview: Mui Ne vs. Nha Trang
The biggest differentiation between these two cities is that Nha Trang is filled with high-rise resorts and has busy, urban streets, while Mui Ne feels like a quiet little beach town. During our visit in March, Mui Ne was positively sleepy — if you were looking to party, you’d struggle to find enough people to fill a dance floor. For me, that’s a pro, but I know it might not be for everyone.
Another big factor to consider is getting around. Nha Trang is much more accessible by foot, whereas Mui Ne almost requires a bicycle, motorbike or taxi if you want to leave your resort. There is a small central area in Mui Ne, which might be more accessible, but we weren’t able to find anything but pricey resorts there.
Location: Mui Ne vs. Nha Trang
Mui Ne, the more southern of the two cities, is a few hours from Saigon and a popular weekend trip from the city among travelers and locals alike. Nha Trang is a few hours further up the coast, and therefore will require a bit more of a commitment if you’re just coming from and returning to Ho Chi Minh City.
However, if you’re on a trip up the coast, Nha Trang is almost inevitable. It’s the last stop on the bus route before the overnight journey to Hoi An. In other words, if you’re traveling from Saigon (or Dalat) to Hoi An or vice-versa, you’re probably going to have to stop in Nha Trang either way — so you almost might as well get off the bus for a day or two.
Sightseeing: Mui Ne vs. Nha Trang
For budget travelers, Mui Ne offers a lot more to “see.” The fishing village is picturesque, and the two most popular sights are also free: the red sand dunes and the white sand dunes. For those willing to spend, there is also a wealth of kite-boarding schools in Mui Ne.
Nha Trang, on the other hand, is famous for its spas. You could easily pass days splashing in mud pools and having your cares massaged away. There is also a good deal of scuba diving available in Nha Trang, though we can’t speak to how good it is, since we didn’t go due to poor conditions during our visit. As you can imagine, the sights in Nha Trang will definitely be pricier.
Of course, if you’re visiting either of these cities, you’re probably coming for the beach. In that regard, I think Nha Trang wins. We found the beach to be pretty filthy in Mui Ne and not easily accessed unless you’re staying at one of the beachfront resorts (e.g. you have to walk through a restaurant or down a sketchy alley to get to the beach from the public roads). Nha Trang, on the other hand, had a boardwalk and wide open entrances to the beach. While you’d have to pay to enjoy the lounge chairs, you could easily park your bum in the sand for free.
Cost: Mui Ne vs. Nha Trang
While both cities had their share of very fancy resorts, we felt Mui Ne offered better value-priced lodging. In Mui Ne, we spent less for a guesthouse where we were able to rent bikes and the staff was very attentive and kind. In Nha Trang, I found the very cheapest 3-star hotel available online, which was about twice the cost of the Mui Ne guesthouse. It was perfectly fine and did certainly look more upscale, but I don’t think it was really worth the cost.
Food and drink prices were comparable in the two cities, though Nha Trang, being more urban, did have a few cheap street food options, which Mui Ne lacked.
Which did we like better?
After several days in Saigon, I really enjoyed the more laid-back atmosphere of Mui Ne. If you’d asked me before writing this which I preferred, I would have picked Mui Ne. However, now that I’ve written down all the factors, I think Nha Trang makes a little more sense to visit, given its location and better beach. Alex also preferred Nha Trang because it offered a little more to do, a greater variety of places to eat, and like I mentioned, it was a lot easier to get to and sit on the beach.
There’s no signature sight at either of these beaches that you’re going to kick yourself for missing out on, so if you’re just interested in sun and sand, go for the better beach in Nha Trang. With that said, if you’re just heading up from Saigon for a few days, you can definitely enjoy yourself in Mui Ne.