Vietnam’s most easterly point, Hòn Gốm Sandbar stretches 30km into the South China Sea. Deserted, wild beaches line both sides of the sandbar, and a couple of tiny fishing villages shelter in calm coves. Just off Highway 1 – a couple hours north of Nha Trang – the tourism potential of Hòn Gốm Sandbar is massive. A new road has been constructed almost along its entire length, paving the way for future development. But, for now, the road is as empty as the beaches either side of it, making this sandbar a great road trip from Nha Trang, for those who want to experience Vietnam’s beaches without the tourists.
HÒN GỐM SANDBAR
Hòn Gốm Sandbar is 70km north of Nha Trang, on Vietnam’s south-central coast. Travelling on Highway 1 there’s a right turn just before the Cổ Mã pass and Đại Lãnh beach (see Directions for details). The sandbar is in a particularly beguiling part of Vietnam: an eastward spur of the Annamite Mountains meets the ocean, providing an imposing backdrop to the beaches in this area. The sandbar heads south-east into the South China Sea, getting more mountainous as it gets further from the mainland. Rocky outcrops and bluffs branch off in all directions, creating lovely coves and protected bays. The beaches on the east face of the sandbar tend to be windy and exposed, whereas the beaches on the west face are calm and sheltered.
At the turn off from Highway 1 a two-lane road heads along the west side of the sandbar, with great views over the bays and mountains to the south and west. A couple hundred metres after the turn off there’s a small, cobbled path on the left, leading over sand dunes to a great, easily accessible beach. Back on the sandbar road, after 10km the road bears left and crosses to the east side of the sandbar. Here there are superb views over kilometres of empty beaches backed by sand dunes. This is the point at which you get that ‘Whoohoo!’ feeling, jump off your bike and run into the surf.
After 5km of sand dunes and casuarina forests the road ends at Đầm Môn fishing village. At first it appears scruffy and dirty, but drive into the village – bearing right whenever you can – and it will reveal its charm. There’s a bustling harbour with a fleet of blue wooden fishing boats, a few places to eat and drink, an interesting market, and lots of excited shouts of “’ello! Wha’ your name?” from local children. There’s one, very ‘local’ place to stay here (see Sleep for details).
On some maps, you’re led to believe that Đầm Môn is the end of the road. In fact, it’s the beginning of the road (well, the new one, at least). Just before the scruffy outskirts of Đầm Môn village there’s a junction. Take a left on to this brand new, four-lane highway to nowhere-in-particular. Big new roads like this one, in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely zero traffic on them, are common in Vietnam, especially in beautiful coastal areas such as this. Someone sees the tourist potential of an area, the government finds investors who are interested in developing it, and then they build a big, new road to start it all off. Thankfully, development often takes years to get off the ground, which means that roads like this serve only to open up access to scenic areas that would otherwise be impossible to get to for independent travellers. (For other examples of great roads like this on the coast see: The Ocean Road and Mũi Dinh Promontory articles on Vietnam Coracle).
The new road winds out of Đầm Môn, passing straight through what must once have been the village cemetery, but most of the graves have been reduced to rubble during the construction of the road (this is another common consequence of developing infrastructure in Vietnam). At this point the sandbar widens and becomes quite rugged. The road ploughs straight through dry, desert-like landscape, sand drifts threatening to cover the tarmac. After 5km views open up to the west over lovely bays and small islands. Here the new road comes to an abrupt end at Sơn Đừng hamlet, tantalizingly close to the tip of the sandbar.
There’s a very steep concrete path leading down to the hamlet of eateries and fishermen’s homes. There are no roads in Sơn Đừng, only sandy pathways, so you have to leave your bike at the bike park at the bottom of the steep concrete path. There’s some good seafood to be found in the informal, bay-side restaurants here, and good swimming in the placid bay waters. It’s also possible to camp here or sleep in one of the hammocks on the beach (see Sleep for more details). A night here can be memorable: the sun sets in the middle of the bay, sculpting the contours of islands and mountains, and if you have a tent you can pitch it right next to the sea, on the sand, under mango trees.
Hòn Gốm Sandbar makes a great excursion by motorbike from Nha Trang for 2-3 days. Most people choose Dóc Lết beach for this kind of trip because it’s nearer and has more tourist infrastructure. But, if you really want to get off the beaten track, follow the directions and the map below to Hòn Gốm Sandbar. Base yourself in one of the decent guesthouses in the vicinity or stay at Đại Lãnh beach, and spend a couple of days exploring this scenic, undeveloped, coastal area.
Hòn Gốm Sandbar is about 2 hours north of Nha Trang by motorbike. The turning off Highway 1 for the sandbar is 72km north of Nha Trang or 40km south of Tuy Hòa. From Nha Trang head north on Highway 1. After 35km drive straight through the town of Ninh Hòa, and continue on Highway 1 for another 40km. The right turn off Highway 1 for the sandbar is clearly signposted ‘Đầm Môn 18km’ (pictured right). This is the beginning of the road that goes almost the entire length of the Hòn Gốn Sandbar.
The road runs straight along the west side of the sandbar for 10km until it bears left and crosses to the east side. There is a gas station here. Follow the road along the coast and through forests for 5km until a junction with a left turn. Here, go straight on for the fishing village of Đầm Môn, or turn left onto the new road to Sơn Đừng hamlet. This is the new section of empty highway. It runs for 5km through desert-like landscape before coming to an end at Sơn Đừng hamlet. Take the steep concrete path down to the hamlet and leave your motorbike at the parking area.
Motorbikes for rent can be found all over Nha Trang, especially from guesthouses and hotels around the beachfront. Prices are between 100-200,000VNĐ ($5-10) a day. A deposit or some kind of collateral is usually required. Do not leave your passport as you will need this to stay in any hotel or guesthouse: leave a copy instead. Alternatively, you should be able to find a motorbike for rent at Đại Lãnh beach.
Accommodation on the sandbar is still extremely limited, but fortunately there are a few very good budget guesthouses in the surrounding area. On the sandbar itself there is a guesthouse (nhà nghỉ) on the right just as the road enters Đầm Môn village. It’s called Hải Hà (Tel: 0912273018). Rooms are very cheap (150,000VNĐ [$7]) but sparse to say the least. It’s OK if you just need a bed for the night.
A better option, but even more rustic, is to pitch your tent (if you have one) on the beach in the grounds of Vườn Xoài (Mango Garden) Restaurant in Sơn Đừng hamlet (Tel: 0919613221). If you don’t have a tent you could negotiate spending the night in one of the hammocks on the beach here! You’ll need to pay the restaurant a few dollars for camping, and it’s polite to have dinner at their restaurant too. If the weather is good, a night next to the bay, under the stars and the mango trees is fantastic. More places to stay are bound to spring up on the sandbar in the coming years.
For much more comfortable (and sensible) accommodation head to the nearby fishing village on Đại Lãnh beach, a couple of kilometres further along Highway 1, beyond the turning for the sandbar and over the Cổ Mã pass (for details on Đại Lãnh accommodation see THIS).
Perhaps the best place to stay while exploring Hòn Gốm Sandbar is the Green Leaf Motel (Nhà Nghỉ Lá Xanh: Tel 058 3938 122). Located on Highway 1, on the left just before the turn off for the sandbar, this is great, local, budget accommodation. The green premises are tidily kept, and the rooms are large and clean. Fan rooms with no windows are 200,000VNĐ ($10), but the best rooms are with air-con and balconies for 350,000VNĐ ($17). A comfortable night here is just what you need after spending the day on the sandbar.
Whale Island is a fairly famous resort on Hòn Ong Island, which is accessed by small boat from Đầm Môn village (15 minutes). It gets good reviews, but I’m yet to visit. Rooms are between $30-50. See their website for more details: www.iledelabaleine.com
Food & Drink:
There are places to eat and drink in the two fishing villages on the sandbar: Đầm Môn and Sơn Đừng. The former is good for light refreshments, but the latter is where you should head for a proper seafood meal. The seafront restaurants (the number of which, though small, increases each time I visit) caters mainly to domestic tour groups that sometimes stop here on small boats for a meal while cruising the surrounding islands. Because these restaurants are serving Vietnamese customers (who tend to be much more discerning than western customers) the food can be really good. I like Vườn Xoài, which is to the left after the bike park at the bottom of the concrete path down to Sơn Đừng hamlet. Prices vary considerably, especially for seafood, so be nice, smile and negotiate. My last meal was so fresh that I had to wait half an hour while it was caught from the ocean! Get here at mealtimes (11am-1pm for lunch, 5-7pm for dinner) otherwise you may not be able to get any food.
Because Hòn Gốm Sandbar is the most easterly point in Vietnam (sticking right out into the South China Sea) it’s subject to some strange weather patterns. Depending on the season, the east face of the sandbar might be battered by strong winds while the west face is calm and serene. However, I’ve visited this area a dozen times or so and I’m yet to experience rain here. There also seems to be a special quality to the light in this area: bright but slightly muted and mysterious.
View ‘Hòn Gốm Sandbar’ in a LARGER MAP
Exploring Hòn Gốm Sandbar by motorbike:
Selected Resources for Travellers & Expats: What's this?