The name Nha Trang is a Vietnamese pronunciation of a Cham word Eatran or Yjatan. Ea or Yja means river, and tran means reed. According to the locals, there once were a lot of reeds along Ngoc Hoi river. The river winds its way through the town. Ngoc Hoi was later renamed Nha Trang river.
Another theory of the origin of Nha Trang’s name has a more amusing twist. Long ago, in this part of the country, all the houses were made out of the reeds and mud gathered from Ngoc Hoi river. The only house that was made out of bricks were the house belonging to Dr. Yersin, a French immunologist who made his home here. The house itself was painted prominently white and could be seen by vessels coming from far away. Once there was a foreign vessel passing by. The captain asked his translator where he was. The translator not knowing where they were blurted out “Nha Trang” or white house in Vietnamese. The captain duly noted on his chart Nha Trang. Because most foreign languages do not make use of tones, the captain’s name for this part of the country stuck.
The port city of Nha Trang is the biggest city in Khanh Hoa province, and lies at the mouth of the Cai River, 256 miles (412 km) northeast of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Khanh Hoa is studded with over 200 picturesque islands, and its 200 kilometre coastline abounds in beautiful white sandy beaches. The Khanh Hoa coast is the first place in Vietnam to welcome the morning sunshine, and it enjoys 300 days of sun a year, at a comfortable temperature of 26.5 degrees Celsius.
Its history is known as far back as the 3rd century AD, when, as part of the independent land of Kauthara, a Champa kingdom, it acknowledged the suzerainty of Funan.
In 1653 it was incorporated into the territory of the Nguyen lords of southern Vietnam and after 1802 into the kingdom of Vietnam due to its strategic value in possessing two major rivers, and boasting a well-protected seaport.
After 1862 Nha Trang was acquired by the French, and in July 1891 Alexandre Yersin, a ship’s doctor in search of adventure, made his first landing in Nha Trang. Eight years later, he was back – and this time he founded the now famous Pasteur Institute for research in tropical diseases. and stayed on in the town until his death in 1943.
In 1912 the Saigon-Hanoi railway reached the town of Nha Trang, known then as a fishing port that had oil-storage facilities. It also has a fine, sandy beach, and under the French it became a seaside resort.
On the north bank of the Cai River, opposite Nha Trang, is the village of Thon Cu Lao, behind which, on a granite knoll, sits Po Nagar (“Lady of the City”), a well-preserved cluster of four Cham shrines dedicated to Shiva and erected or rebuilt between the 7th and 12th century. Nha Trang is the site of the University of Fishery and Marine Products.