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Photo by Rhys Stacker

A practical guide to the best breaks and beach bars in Vietnam.

WITH MORE THAN 3000 kilometers of coastline, the potential for finding waves in Vietnam is limited only by time and motivation. Oh, and a pretty serious language barrier. And some very inaccessible coastline. And unexploded bombs.

Surfing in Vietnam is possible from Vung Tau in the south right up to Dong Ha and beyond on the central coast. There are some established surf spots around China Beach and Mui Ne, but the rest of the coastline its still mostly unexplored.

Weather

The best time for surf is between November and March, when the winter monsoons blow in from the north.

This is also the best time for typhoons to develop, with several forming in the South China Sea each year and lashing fishing villages and coastal towns.

For surfers, it’s these typhoons that produce the biggest swells. Typically it’s short period wind swell, rather than groomed ground swells. They also tend to disappear almost as soon as they arrive, usually within a couple of days.

For much of the year the water is bathtub warm, with the temperature hovering between 25 C (dry season) and 30 C (wet season).

Board-shorts are about all you need, along with a shorty or rashguard for windy days.

Dangers

photo by Rhys Stacker

As you’d expect for a country that saw some of the most ferocious fighting of the 20th century, dangers are still present today.

Unexploded ordinance (UXO) litter the countryside, so straying off the beaten path is not advisable, particularly around the Demilitarized Zone north of Dong Ha.

This presents a challenge for anyone searching for new waves in Vietnam, as there are actually very few beaten paths to some beaches.

In comparison to unexploded ordinance, hazards in the water tend to be less life threatening (at least not immediately).

The trash that is a feature of many cities and towns in Vietnam tends to find its way into the ocean, along with nasty storm water runoff and industrial pollution.

After several conversations with expat surfers and locals alike, I didn’t hear of a single shark sighting, let alone a shark attack.

Da Nang and China Beach

The epicenter of surfing in Vietnam is China Beach.

The epicenter of surfing in Vietnam is China Beach, a long, sandy beach that stretches 30 kilometres south from Da Nang.

American GI’s stationed at the base here regularly surfed China Beach in the 1960s. These days you’ll find expat engineers and English teachers in the line-up, along with a small but growing number of Vietnamese locals.

China Beach can get good too. Very good. Typhoon Durian, responsible for thousands of deaths in the Philippines and Vietnam in 2006, was also responsible for producing clean, four to five foot peaks the length of the beach.

The options for surfboard hire are also good. Tam’s Pub and Surf Shop south of the Marble Mountains has a variety of boards for hire from $5 usd.

Gunnar, a German expat, rents fiberglass boards out of his home near the old U.S. air base.

In between these two options is Hoa’s Place, a must-visit destination.

Hoa and his lovely wife run a relaxed, ramshackle restaurant and guest house in front of a choice left and right sand bank.

Curiously, they are also right next door to a police training facility. The early morning reveille calls serve as a handy dawn patrol wake up for surfers.

Hoa rents three beaten up boards to guests and visitors. After the morning session, the open air restaurant becomes home base for post-surf analysis and Hoa’s freshly made spring rolls. For first timers he’ll even demonstrate how to roll them properly.

Mui Ne

photo by Rhys Stacker

A three hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City will get you to Mui Ne. The southern part of this quiet beach resort follows a single, palm tree lined road that runs parallel to the coast.

Quaint bungalow accommodation and thatch-roofed bars are located along this strip, including Jibes Beach Resort, a chilled-out bar that offers a great view of the sunset and ice cold beers.

Jibes is the focal point for traveling kite and wind surfers in Vietnam. You can also rent epoxy surfboards here from US$5 per hour. This south facing beach needs a pretty large swell to start working, but there is evidence it does get good – on the walls of the club are photos of surfers riding small but clean waves.

Further north past the fishing village is an east-facing beach that picks up more swell and is offshore in westerly winds.

The only problem here is how to get your hire board from Jibes to this beach. A twenty minute scooter ride means you’ll either need to be adept at riding one handed or have a passenger who is able to hang onto the board for you.

Nha Trang

photo by Rhys Stacker

The high rises, beach bars and bright lights of Nha Trang are certainly not to everyone’s taste. I know I was glad to leave after just one week. But that was partly because my body was sore from the poundings the ocean delivered each morning.

Along the main beach a ferocious shore dump made for some exciting body surfing. I didn’t see it drop below four feet the entire time I was there.

North of Nha Trang’s main strip is the Cai Rai river mouth, which in the right swell and tides could have surfable waves peeling off the outside sand bars for the brave or adventurous.

Beyond the river is Hon Do Island and Hon Chong peninsula, both of which feature shallow rock ledges with fast right-handers spinning down the reef, offshore in west north-west winds.

The problem wasn’t a lack of swell, it was a lack of surfboard hire. It was only on my last day in Nha Trang that I found a surfboard for rent. A beat up epoxy model, it had no fins and no wax. Go figure.

Transport

Getting from A to B in Vietnam is often an exciting challenge in its own right. Scooters (also known as motos or mopeds) are the cheapest and fastest way of exploring the coastline around towns. They usually cost from US$5 per day (cheaper for weekly hire).

For traveling between towns, Vietnam has an excellent bus and train service. However, they’re not geared for handling fragile surfboards.

If you do bring your own board, it may be best to hire a van and a driver. This won’t be cheap (in excess of US$30 per day) but it’s really the best option for getting off the beaten track.

Community Connection

Matador’s Vietnam expert Delacouri knows more about the rare monkeys of northern Vietnam than just about anyone. As for surfing, Angie Takanami is an expert on the best breaks in Asia and Australia.

For a great surf story, you can’t do better than Matador editor David Miller’s classic “Notes On Los Pitayeros“.

Surf


 

About The Author

Rhys Stacker

Rhys Stacker is an Australian surfer currently based in landlocked London. When he is not on surf trips abroad he enjoys photography and riding his bike in the city.

  • fuey

    Nice article Rhys. Surfed Non Nuoc, Bac My An and My Khe beaches many times. About to head over for five weeks so may have the time to search a bit more (thinking of the Lang Co area). Thanks for the article Rhys

  • mismis

    i really wish i could take my board with me!!:(:( but i'll be in cambodia first and moving on to laos after vietnam so i dont think thats a good idea. still, imagine finding the perfect hidden surfspot and not having a board with you…

  • ross bowen

    The shorebreak bashing you mentioned at Nha Trang what time of year was it, I am going back to VN in July and again in October for work and thought I’d look for a bit of a bodywave. Surfed China and My Khe last year but its a bit far north for the swell to get in unless storm powered. Like to know when it was that you got tthrashed at Nha Trang. Cheers Ross

  • http://www.kieranburke.blogspot.com kieran burke

    Hi mate,

    I’m currently doing a story for Tracks magazine on Vietnam surf. We are finding it hard to source some surfing/line up-images in hi-res. Do you have any? If so would you be interested in selling them?
    Can you email me if so please?

    Thanks.
    Kieran Burke

  • Damien

    Good stuff!
    Some great info there!
    I am heading to Viet Nam via Cambodia and Thailand, and I am bringing my own board.
    Hopefully it handles the bus/train rides!
    I will be getting into Viet Nam by the beginning of November, so… Bring on the storm swells!
    How often does it blow offshore? Or is it more of a case of getting up early enough to beat the onshore?
    Looking forward to some warm water also – after another cold winter here in New Zealand.

  • Damien

    Right…
    In Mui Ne at the moment.
    Had some small waves in Phuket (Kata beach) a couple of weeks ago. (busted the back fin and bungholes out of my board by hitting some floating trash after a rain storm – gutted. So riding a twin-fin now, with a bubblegum filled hole in the tail)
    Mui Ne is small and onshore (about 1 foof) – but there looks to be a small left point break towards the southern end of the beach. Just went for a ride down there on a scooter (moped) – Only 80,000Dong per day ($4.40 USD).
    Reckon it may look a little better as the tide comes up a bit.
    Beautiful place here – thinking we may stick about for a bit – even if the surf stays small/flat – before heading up to Nah Trang and Da Nang.
    Traveling with my surfboard has not really been a problem. You just have to explain to the bus drivers to stash it on top of the rest of the luggage.
    Hopefully the surf picks up a little soon!

  • Sandy Huen

    Awesome article with great tips and photos. Warm water in November sounds like a dream. It’s cold as ice up here in Taipei, but the breaks are well worth it. If you’re up for surfing in Taiwan, look me up.

  • Damien

    In Nha Trang now – flat as!
    Had some better waves in Mui Ne on the beach to the north of the fishing village.
    Was about 2.5 foot (about head-hight) for 3 days then dropped.
    Real windy in the arvo – but the mornings were sweet as!
    I was the only one out as well, so had all the waves to myself! Killa.
    Water is bath-tub warm everywhere as well!
    Hopefully get some more surf further up the coast in Hoi An and China Beach!
    Taiwan sound interesting! Dont think I will make it on this trip, but maybe some time in the future!
    I love Asia!

    Kiwi D.

  • ross

    Hi KiwiD. Good to hear to found some waves in Mui Ne. You’re right about the wind it really picks up in the PM. This is good though as it sometimes produces a wind chop that is glassy the following morning. I surfed there in July (bodysurfing now my knees have gone) and again in October and found the same conditions at Mui Ne when Nha Trang was flat. Perhaps its the geographical position.
    Like to hear about China or Non Nouc.
    Cheers Ross

  • Damien

    Back home in New Zealand now.
    Got a nice wee wave at the souther ned of China Beach (near Hoi An).
    Broke really nicely for a beach break! Nice soft sand with some good wedges!
    The swell picked up a fair bit over the time I was in Hoi An.
    On the day I left to fly back to Bangkok it was the biggest I had seen it the whole time I was in Vietnam!
    At China Beach – off Danang – It looked to be about a solid 4-5ft!
    Was totally gutted to be leaving!
    But as it happened – I lucked upon a nice swell on Ko Samui (Thailand) that lasted the full 5 days I was there (and once again was the only one surfing it!)
    I will definitely come back to Vietnam again!
    It is such a wonderful place with such wonderful people!
    And I will definitely bring my board with me again next time!
    I cant wait!

    Kiwi D.

  • ross bowen

    good report dave- its handy to have some dates to work with as it is pretty unpredictable as most monsoon sites are. your right about a great place to hang out. i’ll be back in new year and will make some notes, this time maybe north of nha trang but definately mui ne.

    cheers ross

  • http://www.picprogrammer.org Madison Brown

    Surfing is one of my favorite sports eventhough i got a bad accident last year because of very high surfs.:’-

  • http://www.ingaas.net Alexandra Gibson

    Surfing is really the best sport out there, i love the adrenaline rush when surfing on big waves.*.:

  • jungle rat

    Hay everybody,
    yup Vietnam is the shit and surfing is too.
    u wouldnt believe the surf that is available
    offshore winds bc of headlands so when the
    surf comes in its offshore
    this winter is going rule in vietnam
    best time is oct ot feb.
    sept is tyhoon season but thats when the real dream happens
    I was on the beach last year when both typhoons hit vietnam in sept
    living the dream in vietnam
    travel surfing and searching
    aloha

  • http://www.anchorsb.blogspot.com Paul Trinh

    Surf is sick in Nha Trang. Today it hit 7 feet solid face. I lived on the North Shore of Oahu. and haven’t surf waves this fun since there. We just shipped in AIPA surfboards from Hawaii. The only boards you can get here are cheap BIC crap from france and epoxy like SUPs. Anchor skate and surf shop. Go to anchorsb.blogspot.com

  • Drew

    Seriously, who goes to any country on a surf exploration trip without bringing their own surfboard? Amateur!

  • Daniel

    Nice article Rhys, thank you for the information, good reading!

    Keep up the good work

    peace

  • Luke Jones

    Tam’s Pub is actually north of the Marble Mountains a few doors up from the Gold Coast Hotel, I was there in june 2010 for a week and it barely got over a foot. Not much really happens in Da Nang so I headed south, about 25km, to Hoi An where it was a little more bustling. The beach starts to curve a little at Hoi An facing N/E, I could imagine some nice long rights there on the right swell.

    Besides that the highlight of my trip was renting a moto and riding back up to Da Nang and around the massive, green, uninhabited point 5 mins from the city, where I didn’t see a soul. There are small pathways all around the edges of the point and every corner you go around greets you with an epic view which you will have to stop and photograph.

    From there I rode out to the hinterland(only about 30mins) to the Ba Na Hills Resort, for $5 you can ride the worlds longest cable car(5.5km) with awesome views from Da Nang to Hoi An and a reprieve from the blistering heat.

  • james johnson

    just visited lang co beach in vietnam the left hander would really pump in the right conditions i have a photo of it

  • ross bowen

    There are so many places in VN that look like they have promise. Only problem VN faces is that there are 2 winds only SW and NE and these produce wind waves which only look good in the early morning. During the storm season from September to December there are ground swells developed but they are generally associated with the 2 monsoon winds. From Lang Co to Vung Tau there are great points and penninsulas that show real good prospects but with the waves being wind affected at most times reliability is low. I go regularly and find that a break from HCMC to Ham Tien is good for a wind blown bodysurf along the shorebreaks to at least get in the water. Non Nouc (DaNang) has some waves at times.
    Cheers Ross

    • Phill

      Hey Ross are you living in HCMC?? I live Vung Tau?? Always looking to catch up with locals.
      Cheers

  • Phill

    I am an Australian and live in Vung Tau, have a 7′ and 6’6″ at the house. Early rise usually the best in Vung tau before the onshore kicks in. Change of tide best as the rip races south towards the island temple and you spend lots of time paddling. Can be a 3-4 foot shore break with short close outs. If the pipi fisherman attack one part of the beach they dredge up a few gutters so the peaks along the stretch can vary daily.. You can pick up steeper faces inside the island but dont get caught by the tide you will end up in the shipping channel, hahahhah. Most days Im the only one out along with the kite surfers in the afternoon. The right day like any where can be a lot of fun. Especially when its only a 3000 dong afterwoods for a local beer, (thats about 40cents)… hahhahahaha

  • Vince

    Great article this is a great article. So relieved that there’s actually waves out here. Just moved to HCMC from CaLi in the US. It’s been 5 months since i’ve been on a board and in the water!! This is not ok. So i’ve been saving up money to make a journey soon. Any ideas where/when is best for a week trip to ease my mind? It’s currently the end of August 2011 now, and the urge to make thus pilgrimage is growing stronger everyday. Someone please help!

    Cheers,
    CaLiToNam

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Boyle/524716463 Kevin Boyle

    http://kevinboyle52.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/vietnam-surf-travel/ Went there a couple of months ago. Posted some pics and a short blog for anyone who wants further info.

  • LARRY MARTIN, WOODY

    hi, my name is larry “woody’ MARTIN, I WAS AT CHINA BEACH IN 1967,68,69, I RE-STARTERD THE CHINA BEACH SURF CLUB, WE GAVE OUT SOME CARDS, ABOUT 180 OF THEM, I CAME BACK TO THE WORLD WITH A 9FT,6 IN, PHIL SURFBOARD, I WORKER THE THE TV SHOW, AND HAD A SURF COMPANY FOR A WHILE, SELLING  CHINA BEACH SURFBOARDS,TEES, SHORTS,HATS, I STIIL SURF AT 66, AND LIVE  AT 416 FRANCIS DR. PENSACOLA FL. 32506. IF ANY OLD MEMBERS SEE THIS, WRITE, ME.

  • LARRY WOODY MARTIN

    LARRY WOODY MARTIN, CHINA BEACH SURF CLUB, SORRY BUT I PUT THE WRONG STREET ADRESS DOWN, WRITE TO 614 FRANCIS DR. PENSACOLA FL. 32506.

  • Sarah Havard

    This was really informative, thanks. I’m hoping to move to Vietnam soon but I really want to go where the waves are most consistent. I can move anywhere, where would be the best for fun waves? Preferably where it gets bigger than 3ft…

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