Beaches to suit all tastes
Vietnam’s nearly 3,500km of coastline means plenty of beaches. Most are of sand, and face either the South China Sea or the Gulf of Thailand. In general, the best beaches are to be found along the central coast and on the islands, although there are a few exceptions.
Most Vietnamese people do not sunbathe – unlike people in the West, they do not consider a sun-tanned skin attractive. Most beaches are practically deserted during the day: those that are popular with Vietnamese people are usually busy in the early morning and evening, when the sun is at its weakest.
From North to South
Around Ha Long Bay
In the northern areas, the only beaches worth considering are on the distant shale islands of Ha Long Bay. Getting there involves a long boat journey, or a long road journey and a shorter boat crossing. Recently, a couple of reasonable hotels have opened but apart from that, tourism infrastructure is limited.
At the eastern extremity of Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island has a couple of small, but very popular beaches. Tra Co Island, in the far north close to the Chinese border, has a long flat beach of hard sand, but the gradient is too shallow to make swimming practical.
The beaches in the Ha Long Bay tourist area are artificial, made of sand imported from Taiwan. Do Son, not far from Hai Phong, is a faded resort that has seen better days. The beach is unremarkable: the main attraction there is one of Vietnam’s few casinos.
The Red River Delta to Danang
Nearly 300km south, Vinh has a couple of reasonable beaches. Sam Son is very popular with Vietnamese people weekending from Hanoi, but is marred by ugly hotel development. Cua Lo, about 20km from Vinh, is better. Two hundred kilometres further south, Quang Binh has several sandy beaches and dunes, nearly all undeveloped.
Near Hue, Thuan An beach on an attractive lagoon on the estuary of the Perfume River, is very popular with Vietnamese people. Further south, 35 km north of Danang, Lang Co beach is a seemingly endless strip of silvery sand with a lagoon at one end tucked away under the Hai Van Pass. Several resorts are now springing up, but apart from the beach and sea, there is little else to do there.
Danang to Nha Trang
The good beaches begin at Danang, with ‘China Beach’, made famous during the American War, being a popular destination for foreign visitors. It’s one of a long string of excellent beaches scattered along the coast, most of which are little commercialised. However, for much of the autumn the sea can be rough in the Danang area, making bathing inadvisable for all but the most powerful swimmers.
Cua Dai beach, near Hoi An, is fringed with palms, attractive and comparatively quiet.
Around Nha Trang
Approaching Nha Trang, Doc Let beach is very good. Not far away is Whale Island, a get-away- from-it-all exclusive resort set among a number of superb beaches. Nha Trang itself has a good public beach with plenty of room, and a range of other attractions. Both Whale Island and Nha Trang have diving centres.
South of Nha Trang
Mui Ne beach, 200km from Ho Chi Minh City, is an 18km stretch of sand with many attractive hotels and resorts. Although commercialised, the development has been done well and there is something for all tastes, from exclusive luxury bungalows to backpacker resorts.
The deep south
Vung Tau has some reasonable beaches, but its proximity to Ho Chi Minh City (128km) means it’s over-commercialised, crowded and somewhat polluted.
Some of the best beaches in Vietnam are on Phu Quoc Island, a short flight from Ho Chi Minh City. However, the infrastructure is undeveloped, and the level of accommodation generally poor. Scuba diving there is good, and there is a newly opened diving centre.
The Con Dao archipelago is another possibility. Previously hard to reach, a new air service has made a visit more straightforward. We’ll be inspecting the area during the summer of 2004 – further details pending!
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