By Vietnam specialist Mark
Vietnam’s beaches are surprisingly overlooked but, because of it, quiet and relatively untouched. The coastline sweeps in a 3,000km S-shape from China in the north to Cambodia in the south. It passes through three different micro-climates along the way, which means dry, sunny weather is always to be had on either the central or south coast, whatever time of year you travel.
And, if I had to pick out just two of Vietnam’s beach resorts? They would be Phu Quoc Island with its bright white sand and busy fishing community and Con Dao, a collection of islands set in a protected marine park known for quiet sweeping beaches and enticing clear waters.
For this guide, I’ve focussed on the beaches of Vietnam’s central and south coasts (the north has untouched beaches but a limited infrastructure). The central beaches tend to be better from March to August when the wet weather disappears, and the southern beaches are drier from October to April.
Beaches and beach resorts in Central Vietnam
With tens of kilometres of coast featuring long stretches of white-sand beaches and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Hue and Hoi An), central Vietnam is an ideal beach destination between February and September, when it’s warm and dry. The international airport at Danang is just 20 minutes away.
Some bigger hotels are starting to appear, but the white-sand beaches are so long that they retain a quiet air. The waters are clear and turquoise, lending themselves to snorkelling and scuba diving, as well as fishing. Away from the sea, Bach Ma National Park is a 2-hour drive from Hoi An and the place the locals come to escape and relax in the untouched jungle, swimming in natural pools shaped by waterfalls.
Between Hue and Hoi An, there’s a great selection of large and small hotels along the coast. Quiet Lang Co Bay is my favourite beach in Vietnam — a crescent-moon of pearly white sand instead of the usual long sweep — and it’s mercifully undeveloped. The only hotels here are the five-star Banyan Tree, at the top end of the luxury scale, and the Angsana, a great family option.
The beach nearest to Hoi An is home to the Nam Hai, one of Vietnam’s best beach resorts for its exceptional service levels, large rooms and contemporary Vietnamese feel.
Eating White Rose dumplings in Hoi An after the beach
After a day on the beach, as the sun fades, I’d recommend heading in to Hoi An to eat out at one of the riverside restaurants. The local dumpling is delicious and served up by most of the eateries in town. It's called the White Rose because of the translucent white dough that is pinched up to hold the shrimp and pork filling hidden inside.
White Rose dumplings
Beach holidays around Nha Trang
One of Vietnam’s first true beach resorts, Nha Trang is now a lively and developed city with its own airport. Venture a little out of town and you start to understand why the area became so popular, it’s graced with quiet bays, a mountainous backdrop, and calm blue waters. This coast is best visited between January and September.
A little out of town, 40 minutes by car then an exhilarating 20 minutes by speedboat, is my favourite resort in the area, the Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. Set on a horseshoe-shaped beach where the jungle palms cast long shadows on the golden sand, the calm on this beautiful and remote peninsula presents a marked contrast from the traffic of Nha Trang. It’s so remote, in fact, that your only dining option is at the hotel, which can serve you a private dinner in a wine cave among the other restaurant choices.
Aside from relaxing on the beach and snorkelling in the South China Sea, the Six Senses can arrange cookery courses, boat trips, yoga, hiking and a trip to the nearby hot spring mud bath.
Beach holidays close to Saigon
Four hours northeast of Saigon by road are the resort towns of Mui Ne and Phan Thiet. The local resorts have developed over the years to offer a mixture of deluxe hotels and small guesthouses, each adding its own personality for a multicultural beach stay.
Not perhaps my first choice of beach in Vietnam, this isn’t one of the quieter coastal stretches. Its appeal lies in its proximity to Saigon, holding the accolade as the only beach in Vietnam you can drive to rather than having to fly. The choice of where to stay is limited, and I’d say suggest the Anantara as my pick of the bunch. This area is best visited from November through to April.
Remote beach stay on Phu Quoc Island
If you’re looking for palm trees, bright-white sand, and a wealth of wonderful seafood restaurants, Phu Quoc is for you. Sheltering in the Gulf of Thailand, the turquoise sea that laps Phu Quoc is more peaceful than on other Vietnam beaches.
Early morning walks along the shore are greeted by sights of the fisherman bringing in their catch – the island is home to numerous fishing villages. Any one of the small beach shacks will pour you a late-night sundowner, and the local food speciality is barbequed seafood cooked on the beach. In short, Phu Quoc oozes the sand-between-your-toes island life.
If you’re looking to stay at one of the more remote resorts on Phu Quoc, I’d suggest the charming and eco-friendly Mango Bay Resort.
The best time to visit is between November and August.
Phu Quoc Island
Con Dao Islands
Con Dao is a collection of islands off the south coast of Vietnam, just a 45-minute flight from Saigon. In the middle of the last century, the archipelago was more famous as a French penal colony (the desolate shells of abandoned prisons still sit alongside manicured gardens and colonial villas on the largest island), but now Con Dao is known for quiet sweeping beaches, crystal-clear waters, and exceptional scuba diving.
The waters are at their clearest between February and July, and green turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in May with baby turtles hatching right through to October.
The 16 islands of the Con Dao archipelago make up the majority of the protected Con Dao Marine Park. Sea life found here includes the rare dugong, a large marine mammal related to the manatee.
The best place to stay and enjoy a more remote Vietnam beach resort is the beautifully crafted, award-winning Six Senses Con Dao, especially between Christmas and August, to make the most of the weather.
The Six Senses, Con Dao Islands