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There are moments that define a trip; the ones you tell stories of forever, the memory makers.
For us, scuba diving in Nha Trang was one of those defining moments of our three month sabbatical in Southeast Asia.
And for me, this was one of THE most uncomfortable things I could do. I have a fear of open water, am a weak swimmer and have the buoyancy of a small house brick.
But, as so often in life, the things that push the edge of the comfort zone are the ones that have the biggest pay off.
And, despite having a good go at drowning in a swimming pool on day one, I pushed through and we ranked it at number two on our ‘best experiences in Southeast Asia’ list.
Not half bad then.
In this post I share all the details, from who we booked with and why, what to expect as you learn to dive and the stories from our three days in the water.
I hope you enjoy, as always if you have any questions then drop them in the comments at the bottom of this post, I always reply…
Scuba Diving Basics
Everything scuba diving runs through a world body called PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors).
Any time you learn anything scuba diving related across the world it will be based on PADI courses and certification.
*EDIT – I’ve been told that this isn’t entirely true, and there are other scuba diving organisations, but PADI is the biggest and the most commonly used.
I did lots of research on how to start out scuba diving and there are essentially two different PADI courses you can start out with.
The first is the Open Water Diver course, which is completed across three to seven days and includes a classroom learning session, five skill courses in a pool and four open water dives in a lake or ocean. It allows you to dive to 18 metres and hire your own equipment in future.
The second is the Scuba Diver course, which is essentially Open Water Diver lite. It is the first half of the Open Water Diver course, including the learning session, three pool skill sessions and two open water dives. It is shorter (two days) and cheaper than the main course, but also means you will only be certified to dive to 12 metres, and will need to upgrade to the full course before you are allowed to dive by yourself.
We opted to go for the full Open Water Diver course as we had the time and wanted to have more dives out in the ocean as we were learning.
For much information on the differences read ‘What’s the Difference Between Scuba DIver and Open Water Diver?’ from the PADI blog.
Scuba Diving in Nha Trang
Scuba Diving Companies in Nha Trang
There are lots of scuba diving companies in Nha Trang, but from the research I did there seem to be four big ones:
They all offered the entry level Open Water Diver PADI course, so it was a case of choosing between them.
Being my diligent self, I or course spent hours reading reviews from Tripadvisor and Google, browsing through the websites and speaking to people in online forums who’d learned to dive in the area.
Below is some basic information about each of the companies. Tripadvisor and Google reviews don’t count for everything, so do your own research before you start
|Nha Trang Fun Divers
|2 or 3 Days
|Rainbow Divers Nha Trang
Vietnam Active – Our Choice for Scuba Diving in Nha Trang
After firing a few emails off and getting responses I settled on Vietnam Active. Jens was their main contact and we exchanged multiple emails in which he was both very helpful and very accommodating of our needs (especially reassuring me with my fear of open water!).
Below is the first email he sent us, with the key information.
I don’t know what the standard is, but to have an instructor just looking after the two of us was great.
We popped into the office which wasn’t far from our hotel, signed the forms and had a catch up with one of the instructors who was manning the main desk.
Again this was a reassuring process, it was fantastic to be able to chat to an instructor before we signed any of the forms and get a feel for how the course would work.
One of the great little touches from Vietnam Active is that they pay the cab fare to get you to the office, just ask the cab driver to wait and the receptionist will head out and pay them for you.
We signed and paid our money. There was no going back now, this was the most nervous I’d been on our entire trip, but we were both excited about what was to come.
Our Experience of Scuba Diving in Nha Trang with Vietnam Active
Before we even turned up to the first day we’d been sent a huge Dropbox file with theory information to learn about diving, which helped us get ready for what was to come.
This helped to get us prepared before we even turned up for the first day.
Nha Trang Diving: Day One
Apologies for the large body of text here, we didn’t get any photos from day one as we’d locked our phones away in a locker at the pool
Our first day of diving was a half day of training.
We arrived at the office and met with our Austrian guide for the next few days, Andrea. Andrea was fun, knowledgeable and very blunt – the last of which is a trait I don’t normally enjoy, but (as I came to learn quickly) was absolutely necessary to keep us safe for the next few days.
Our training centre for the day was a local open air swimming pool. We’d been asked to bring nothing more than our swimming gear, towels and sunblock. The sunblock was very necessary for a vicious Vietnamese sun.
We got introduced to a whole suite of equipment that I had never heard of or considered before. Mouthpieces (two of them, one as a backup in case anyone else ran out of air), a lifevesty thing called a BCD (buoyancy compensation device) that could be inflated and deflated using air from the tank for buoyancy, weights that attach to your vest as it turns out a wetsuit and BCD can actually prevent a person from sinking, goggles, flippers watches – this is certainly not a hobby to take up lightly.
And speaking of lightly, wow that kit is heavy. I’d not expected how much it all weight, it’s certainly not easy to move about in out of the water.
Andrea diligently talked us through each piece of kit, how it worked, how to look after it and (most importantly) what to do if it went wrong. It felt like a lot for my little brain to take in. Scuba diving is unlike anything else I’ve ever done, so the learning curve felt steep. When I learned to play bass guitar, I’d already been playing regular guitar for ten years, so the transition felt fairly easy. The closest thing I’d even done to scuba diving was swimming, but this is barely a comparison as in swimming it’s not normally a good idea to sink, try and breathe underwater or tie weights to yourself.
When we got in the pool I felt like I didn’t know enough. This was not a reflection on Andrea’s teaching, as there was literally no risk (I could stand on the bottom of the pool!) but my bigger fears about this diving course coming through.
Our first mission was to get our heads underwater and learn to breathe using the mouthpiece. This sounds easy, but I found it really hard. It took every fibre of my being to not put my head straight back above water into the beautiful fresh air. I was clamped onto the mouthpiece so hard it gave my jaw pain all evening. I panicked almost immediately, managed to suck in some water and managed about ten seconds before heading up.
Andrea had seen it all before though, gave me some kind of ‘pull yourself together man’ speech and we were going again.
Each time I tried, it got easier and more natural.
Needless to say, Becca found the whole thing easy and was wondering what the hold up was about.
Next we strapped on the flippers and tanks and headed for the deep end, time to get our buoyancy right and learn to move underwater.
Andrea did some experiments to get the correct weights for both of us to counteract the effects of the wet suits and we were off, under the water.
The bit I found most annoying was the goggles. I must have a weird shaped head as I just couldn’t seem to get a good seal around mine, meaning water kept leaking in. Andrea had taught us a good technique for purging them, but I just seemed to let more water in which then made me panic again and head for the surface.
I was really not good at all this!
My solution was to tighten them so hard that I have no doubt it’s left my with lasting brain damage but, honestly, no-one’s noticed.
We completed a whole series of drills underwater, learning to control our buoyancy using our breathing and the BCD, learning to read the dials, proper use of hand signals and (the worst one!), Andrea turning off our tanks so we could experience the feeling of running out of air and having to use the spare mouthpiece of a fellow diver.
I survived the drills and actually started to enjoy the time underwater by the end, but also had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach about having to use these skills in open water tomorrow.
Nha Trang Diving: Day Two
I have to confess to being incredibly nervous at the start of day two. This was the first open water dive, we were off into the ocean!
We got to the marina at 0730 and helped load up the boat with canisters and diving gear. We had a fantastic chat with Andrea, our instructor, on the way who told us everyone gets nervous and to just focus on what we’d learned. She would be close to us the whole way and nothing could go wrong. It made me feel a lot better though, after some of the panic I’d had in the pool yesterday, this seemed like a big stretch for only our second day.
There is lots to do when you dive – checking and double checking equipment, wriggling into a wetsuit, loading up belts with weights and strapping them on, wrestling the heavy canisters onto your back, spitting in goggles so they don’t mist up (yes, really!) – so before we knew it it was time to step out into the sea.
The first hit of water is a shock, but with our BCDs inflated there was no chance of going under, we just bobbed on the top like corks until it was time to go.
When we were all ready, arms go in the air, BCDs deflate and we drop.
The first thing I noticed was my hearing going and everything becoming really close. The noises of the surrounding world disappear, left with the muted rumble and squeaks of the sub-marine life. It is also very different having goggles as it made the underwater world visible for the first time in my life.
We spent time trying to get our buoyancy right. It’s very different in the sea with the added salt and Becca was struggling as her wetsuit was a bit big and it meant she kept rising towards the surface. At one point she seemed to be shooting up towards the propellers of a passing boat (who got a severe Austrian telling off from Andrea when we got back to the surface as they shouldn’t have been using them around divers), but Andrea was quickly after her and dragged her back down.
Working out a world in three dimensions is tough. Usually we’re only going back, forward, left or right but whilst diving up and down becomes key too. I was over using my BCD, which takes air from the tank and Andrea explained to me after the first dive that the lungs can act as buoyancy too due to the amount of air we hold. I was trying to counteract my breathing with the BCD inflatables which meant I was all over the place and on a few occasions had some unfortunate collisions with sea urchins when I got it wrong.
The dive went incredibly fast as we were concentrating so hard and also I was burning through air quickly because I was breathing very hard due to my nervousness. At the point we had to go back up due to me almost being empty Becca had quarter of a tank and Andrea nearly half a tank of air left, I had really been going for it!
We had an amazing lunch on the boat of Banh Mi and fruit before heading back in for a second dive.
As with everything, repetition helps, as does refining equipment choices. Becca was in a smaller wetsuit, I had an additional weight on my belt and this all seemed to help out buoyancy and we were able to think more about what was going on around us than just keeping alive!
We saw an octopus, some beautiful starfish, heaps of coral, pipefish and clownfish. Andrea had a camera with her, which was an extra cost, but meant we got an upload of photos afterwards which was WELL worth it.
There were lots of exercises taking place as we swam around. We had to show again how to clear our goggles, learned lots of hand signals, were constantly asked to check out air gauges and report back and then learned to stop and decompress as we went back to the surface as the pressure can cause something called ‘the bends’ which is nasty.
After we finished up it was back to Nha Trang where we had an hour or so to ourselves before heading back to the office at 4pm for our PADI test. We’d been revising for a couple of days from videos and PDF books uploaded to a Dropbox account so we were feeling fairly confident. We had 40 practice questions followed by 50 of the real thing and we both passed!
Nha Trang Diving: Day Three
Day three was time for another two dives which would see us signed off officially as PADI divers.
Today we were going a little deeper, down to 18m and were expected to own a lot more of the process ourselves to get our kit ready. Andrea was with us the whole time, but she stepped back a little and let us solve problems between us and become each other’s dive buddys whilst doing the pre dive checks.
We were off to the famous Madonna Rock which has depths of 25m and also the promise of a small cave we could swim through if we were feeling brave.
It was another great day of diving which passed without any issues. We were starting to have some fun now and saw some wonderful things including a huge moray eel sticking out of a rock like a scene from star wars, tony bright blue damselfish and magnificent emperor angelfish.
We still had lots of learning to do, including another ‘we’re out of air’ test and using a partner’s spare mouthpiece for support, deploying an inflatable yellow ‘safety sausage’ to the surface to indicate our position and having our three minute stop to decompress on the way back up.
We also got some wonderful photos of us playing around in the water and she shot a video of us diving through the cave.
We finished up and headed back to land, thanking Andrea more times than I can remember for her patience, professionalism and care for us.
I was relieved it was over, but also had this weird feeling I wanted to go again. It was so far away from anything I’d ever done before that it felt a little like a dream I was struggling to remember.
We were both tired, a little scraped from the rocks and bruised from the equipment but with huge smiles plastered across our faces.
It was time to head out into Nha Trang to find some food and a Bia Saigon to celebrate.
Scuba Diving Information About Nha Trang
The Best Dive Spots in Nha Trang
I scanned in the image above from the wall of Vietnam Active which shows the best diving sites around Nha Trang.
It is all centred around the Hon Mun Marine Protected Area about 40-minutes from Nha Trang, which is a perfect location with various depths of water, coral, lots of marine species and swim-through tunnels.
This post covers off some brief information about each of these sites.
The Best Time for Scuba Diving in Nha Trang
The best time to go diving in Nha Trang is between the months of April and August, with good temperatures and visibility up to 30 metres.
If you’re here out of these times though don’t worry too much, Nha Trang has beautiful weather most of the year with a long dry season from January to September. October to late December is generally the off season due to the monsoon rains and strong winds which makes the waters choppy. Most of the dive schools will close during this time.
Other Nha Trang Info
Where We Stayed in Nha Trang
We stayed at the Seamark Apartments, just back from the seafront and with wonderful views out over the ocean.
Six nights cost us less than $150USD, so great value for money clean and comfortable.
Other Things To Do in Nha Trang
We were only in Nha Trang to dive so didn’t experience much of the city or surrounding area. We were keen to get to Hoi An soon after our diving finished so left this part of Vietnam unfinished.
The Vietnam Guide has a great post on the best things to do in Nha Trang, with the Vinpearl Amusement Park, Long Son Pagoda & White Buddha and 9th century Po Nagar Cham Towers the most popular choices. I would also have been really interested to get out and see the Hon Khoi Salt Fields which look perfect for some unique photography.
Best Nha Trang Tours
AUTHOR – BEN REEVE
Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.
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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie