Last updated September 2015 | First published 2013 | Words, photos and film by Vietnam Coracle
Núi Chúa is a rugged peninsular that juts out into the East Sea, between Phan Rang City and Cam Ranh Bay, on Vietnam’s south-central coast. The entire promontory is part of Núi Chúa National Park, which protects the considerable flora and fauna in this area, including the Black Asian Bear. Because it’s so mountainous, Núi Chúa Peninsular has remained relatively untouched. But, now there is a newly completed coastal road that winds all the way around the promontory. This has opened up access to spectacular beaches, forests, and mountain springs, as well as pretty little fishing harbours. Here is my guide to motorbiking this fantastic coast road.
Núi Chúa Peninsular feels like a world in itself. Located just north of the desert-like landscape of Mũi Dinh Promontory, Núi Chúa is comparatively lush and fertile. Although in the middle of Vietnam’s hottest and driest province (Ninh Thuận), Núi Chúa Peninsular seems to have its own micro-climate: giant clouds often bubble up over its jungled peaks, while the rest of the province bakes under the relentless sun. Driving along the new Núi Chúa coastal road as it winds through forests, over rivers and up mountains, it’s easy to forget that this is mainland Vietnam; it feels more like an island, all alone in the East Sea. However, Phan Rang City is only half an hour to the south, and the bright lights of Nha Trang just an hour or so to the north. Driving between these two cities via the Núi Chúa coastal road makes for a great road trip and a much more scenic alternative to taking Highway 1.
Núi Chúa Coastal Road
The road starts at the northern end of Ninh Chữ Beach, just east of Phan Rang City. After crossing a new bridge at the entrance to a pretty fishing harbour, turn right for the beginning of the Núi Chúa coastal road (see Directions for details). The road follows the coastline for 10km with lovely views back across Ninh Chữ Beach and the rocky escarpments of Mũi Dinh Promontory. As the road bears left there are a couple of small fishing communities accessed by narrow, paved lanes. With the sandy, salty wind blowing between the concrete and corrugated iron dwellings – all shuttered up in the middle of the day – they feel far removed from the bustle of Phan Rang City. In front of these rather rough-looking settlements the sea is the colour of aftershave, and empty wicker coracles float in the surf – a taste of what lies ahead on this road.
Over the next 20km to Vĩnh Hy Bay things gradually become lusher: rice fields replace salt flats, jungle covers the previously arid mountainsides, and settlements become fewer and smaller. While on this stretch of road you can feel the exquisite beaches that lie just out of sight – over the sand dunes, beyond the rocks, or through the trees – to the east of the road. Look out for small concrete or dirt paths: many of these eventually lead to just such a beach. It’s a good idea to start out early in the day so there’s plenty of time to explore these little paths and find the empty stretches of sand. Some of the beaches in this area are important nesting grounds for sea turtles and are protected by the national park – hopefully this means that big resort developments will be kept at a minimum.
VIDEO: The Núi Chúa Coastal Road:
Vĩnh Hy Bay is a superb inlet of water between two mountainous headlands. There’s a small fishing village at its centre with a few shops and local places to eat on the harbour front, where wooden fishing boats anchor in the calm bay. It’s a peaceful, beautiful place that’s a natural stop for lunch as it’s located halfway along the Núi Chúa coastal road. Glass bottom boats take tourists to nearby coral reefs and other beaches hidden in coves along the coast. There’s a ticket kiosk for boats near the waterfront after crossing the narrow bridge into town. There’s a new luxury resort in the area, called Amanơi Vinh Hy Bay (www.amanresorts.com/amanoi). Inspired by traditional Vietnamese architecture, it’s a bit like entering an ancient imperial palace complete with all modern conveniences. It’s tasteful and luxurious indeed – and it should be for upwards of $1,000 a night. This resort has put Vinh Hy Bay on the tourist map, and there are other high-end resorts planned for the beaches along the Nui Chua Coastal Road: now is the time to visit if you want to experience this coastline before developers move-in and claim all the good beaches. If you don’t have a thousand bucks lying around you can still stay in Vinh Hy Bay at the excellent-value Vinh Hy Resort (see Sleep for details).
From Vĩnh Hy Bay the road has recently been completed all the way up a mountain and down the other side to Cam Ranh Bay. The road is in great shape, and the mountain passes and coastal stretches offer some incredible views. First, the road climbs out of Vĩnh Hy Bay, winding around the mountainside with the views getting better with each hairpin bend.
Once Vĩnh Hy Bay is out of sight, the tarmac ploughs through dense forest, high above the ocean. This is when Núi Chúa’s micro-climate becomes apparent: it feels more like the Central Highlands than the driest province in Vietnam. There’s a bit of chill in the air thanks to the foliage, wind and altitude (Núi Chúa reaches a height of over 3000 feet). Somewhere in these forests are exotic animals, such as the Black Asian Bear (which can be gigantic), the Sun Bear, and a healthy population of Black-shanked Douc (a type of primate that looks like a character from Japanese anime movie, Spirited Away!).
Once at the top of the pass, there are immense views down over Cam Ranh Bay, with beaches nestled under cliffs in the foreground, and the purple-tinted Annamite Mountain Range rising in the distance. You can turn off your engine and glide down this amazing road; each meandering bend opening up another panoramic view over the East Sea. The only things obstructing the views are the enormous concrete electricity pylons that line the road. As the road reaches sea-level again, there are small paths leading to some of the great beaches that you glimpsed from the mountain pass. Take the time to drive to one of them and have a swim in the fluorescent-blue water.
On one of the beaches you’ll notice a fair amount of activity. Tourist boats come and go, ferrying passengers to and from the floating seafood restaurants on the turquoise water and the nearby island of Binh Hung. This is a great little trip – especially for some terrific seafood. However, the area is still sensitive and you may find officials refuse to take foreigners to the island. But it’s still worth a shot as these restrictions are rapidly being relaxed in Vietnam.
On the left-hand side, a few kilometres after descending the mountain pass, is a gorgeous fresh-water spring, gushing off the mountainside and forming a couple of nice pools for swimming. This is a great spot, but plenty of other people have obviously thought so too: although the spring will probably be deserted if you stop by on a weekday, the amount of litter jammed between boulders in the stream suggests that this is a popular weekend and holiday spot for domestic tourists. Sadly, this is something I encounter over and again in Vietnam: the Vietnamese love to picnic in beautiful natural surrounds – which is fantastic – but few people bother to take their litter away with them. I hope this will change as Vietnam’s youthful population receives more education about the effects of littering.
If the litter puts you off bathing in this spring, there’s another great river a few kilometres further along the coastal road. After crossing a bridge there are two swimming spots: take the path on the right down to the riverbank for an ‘easy-access’ swim, or take the path on the left for a rocky but more scenic bathing location. The water has come straight off the mountains in Núi Chúa National Park, so it’s cool, clean and refreshing. It’s great to find clean, fresh-water swimming in this part of Vietnam – usually you have to go high up in the mountains to find rivers that are not polluted.
Just a couple hundred metres after the river, there’s a right turn signposted for Ngoc Suong Resort. Only take this road if you like empty, white sand beaches and turquoise seas surrounded by fruit plantations; and little concrete lanes that end in isolated fishing hamlets with friendly local people; and wooden boats bobbing in sheltered rocky coves, and small, informal eateries with great seafood right on the beach; and sunsets over one of the world’s biggest natural harbours with mountains looming up behind it: if you’re not into that kind of thing, then continue straight on.
If you do like that sort of thing, turn right and head up this road as it narrows into a single concrete lane with views over Cam Ranh Bay. At a T-junction, turn right and follow the signs for Bình Châu Beach (Bãi Bình Châu). Accessed by sandy tracks through cashew trees, this is a lovely, white sand beach with a great little restaurant on the sand. Popular with young locals on weekends and holidays, you’ll have it all to yourself on most other days. Even if the restaurant isn’t open (which it might not be on the quieter days) it’s still a great place for a swim. You can also stay the night in one of the few brick bungalows here. You can continue past Binh Chau beach by staying on the concrete lane until it forks. Here, you can go in either direction until the lanes end at fishing hamlets where everyone comes out to say ‘hello!’ Ngoc Suong Resort and Restaurant is on the left-hand side before you get to these fishing villages. It’s in a fabulous location and there’s great seafood available here. There are other little lanes in this area that you can get pleasantly lost on: passing through shady fruit orchards, up rocky hills, and ending in pretty, isolated fishing communities: this is a wonderful corner of coastal Vietnam.
Once you’ve had your fill of this lovely area, head back to the Bình Châu turn off, and turn right to rejoin the Núi Chúa coastal road again. From here the road heads out of the national park and along the southern shore of Cam Ranh Bay before joining Highway 1. Turn right onto Highway 1 for Nha Trang (65km), or turn left to take the highway back to Phan Rang City (35km). Note: if you’re coming to or from Nha Trang make sure you take the more scenic and quieter airport road out of the city (see Directions for details).
- Mui Dinh Promontory: A sublime new road winds around this rocky, rugged, remote peninsular
- Beyond Mui Ne: Leave mainstream beaches behind and find empty sands on this motorbike route
- The Southeast Loop: Staying on scenic backroads between Saigon, Mui Ne, and Dalat
- Hon Gom Sandbar: A fantastic road stretches along this beach-studded promontory
- Driving to Phu Quoc Island: Across the Mekong Delta to the white sands of this tropical island
I’ve written the following directions starting in Phan Rang City and ending in Nha Trang, i.e. south to north – just as the road trip is written-up in the article above. You can, of course, drive this route north to south, by starting in Nha Trang.
The total distance from Phan Rang to Nha Trang via the Núi Chúa coastal road is 130km:
Start on Yên Ninh Road, which runs along the length of Ninh Chữ Beach, just east of Phan Rang City. Stay on this road for 5km until it crosses a bridge at the small fishing village of Khánh Hải. Take a right immediately after the bridge, signposted for Vĩnh Hy. This is Road 702; the Núi Chúa coastal road. (Note: there’s now a new bridge connecting Ninh Chu Beach with the Nui Chua coast road; to get there turn right at the roundabout just after the Saigon Ninh Chu Resort). The road follows the coast for 10km, and then veers to the left at Thanh Hải village. From here to Vĩnh Hy Bay it’s 20km – look out for small tracks and lanes heading towards the ocean; some of these lead to great, deserted beaches.
At Vĩnh Hy Bay, bear right if you want to go into the village for refreshments, or bear left to continue on the Núi Chúa coastal road as it climbs up behind Vĩnh Hy Bay. The mountain pass is 8km long with spectacular views. On the other side of the pass the road follows the coast for 15km before crossing a bridge over a river – this is a great swimming spot. 500m after the bridge there’s a right turn signposted for Ngoc Suong Resort. Turn right to explore the great beaches and lovely small roads in this area, or continue straight on to stay on the Núi Chúa coastal road until it meets Highway 1 after 5km.
Turn right onto Highway 1 towards Cam Ranh Town (15km). Stay on Highway 1 for another 10km after Cam Ranh Town until you see a signpost for a right turn for Cam Ranh Airport (Sân Bay Cam Ranh). Turn right and stay on this road (called Nguyễn Chí Thanh) until it crosses a bridge over a bay. Turn left immediately after the bridge. This is the scenic airport road (called Nguyễn Tất Thành) that goes all the way to Nha Trang. Stay on this road for 35km as it passes the airport, hugs the cliffs above the ocean, and eventually hits the seafront at Nha Trang.
Note: for information about how to continue this road trip south of Phan Rang City to Mũi Dinh Promontory, read THIS.
You can find motorbikes for rent in either Phan Rang City to the south of Núi Chúa Peninsular, or Nha Trang to the north:
In Phan Rang City head out to Ninh Chữ Beach, a couple of kilometres east of the town centre. You should be able to find bikes for rent in the resorts and guesthouses that line Yên Ninh Road on the seafront.
In Nha Trang, because it is such a tourist mecca, you should have no problem at all finding bikes for rent, especially around the cheaper hotels.
Prices are generally between 150-200,000VNĐ ($7-10) per day, with discounts available for rentals of a week or more. Most places won’t require anything more than a copy of your passport (not the real thing), or some kind of collateral in case you damage the bike.
There are currently only a few places to stay on the Núi Chúa coastal road, although that’s set to change in the future with big development planned for the area. Amanơi Vinh Hy Bay (www.amanresorts.com/amanoi) is a brand new luxury resort nestled in the hills above a beautiful bay. Inspired by traditional Vietnamese architecture, it’s a bit like entering an ancient imperial palace complete with all modern conveniences. It’s tasteful and luxurious: a sign of things to come on the Nui Chua coastal road. Prices are upwards of $1,000 a night. In Vinh Hy fishing village great-value accommodation is available at Vinh Hy Resort (068 3771 999). Bungalows are set around a pond and there’s a swimming pool looking over the picturesque harbour. Prices are between $10-20 a night for bright, clean rooms. Glass bottom boats can be hired from the resort (from $50) to explore the coral reefs just offshore. Ngoc Suong Resort (www.ngocsuong.com.vn) is on the left just after passing Bình Châu Beach. Its location is fantastic: rooms are set around boulder-strewn beaches, overlooking blue seas. Accommodation is good if not luxurious, and the restaurant is famous for its seafood.
Phan Rang City to the south of Núi Chúa Peninsular, and Nha Trang to the north, offer plenty of other accommodation options. In Phan Rang it’s best to head a couple of kilometres east of the town centre, to Ninh Chữ Beach. Yên Ninh Road runs along the long, lovely beach here. There are a few mid-range places to stay on the beach-side of this road, including Bàu Trúc Resort (www.bautrucresort.com). Nice brick bungalows are set in beachside gardens and go for around $50 a night. On the other side of Yên Ninh Road you’ll find plenty of cheaper guesthouses (nhà nghỉ in Vietnamese), most of which have decent, clean rooms for around 200,000VNĐ ($10) a night. Find out more about Nhà Nghỉ HERE.
In Nha Trang there are literally hundreds of hotels in all price ranges to choose from. For a good selection of accommodation in Nha Trang, I recommend the hotel guide on Rustycompass.com.
Food & Drink:
While there’s plenty of good food and drink at either end of this road trip (in Phan Rang City and Nha Trang), choices on the Núi Chúa coastal road itself are limited. However, you’ll always find a sprinkling of street-side stalls along the way. Other than that, there are a few places where you can get a real meal: The modest fishing village in Vĩnh Hy Bay has some decent local seafood restaurants. There are excellent floating seafood restaurants (accessed by a short ferry ride) just off the coast, around Binh Hung Island. And there is a great, informal restaurant on Bình Châu Beach. Also, not far from Bình Châu Beach is Ngoc Suong Restaurant (www.ngocsuong.com.vn) which is a high-end chain that’s famous in southern Vietnam for seafood. For a sunset cocktail by the beach try to time it right for happy hour (4-6pm) at the brand new Ninh Chu Bay Beach Club and Bar. Owner, Mark Gwyther, knows the area well and is sure to have all the latest news about the Nui Chu coastal road.
Núi Chúa Peninsular is in Ninh Thuận Province, on Vietnam’s south-central coast. This is the driest and hottest part of the country. It has an extended dry season – lasting from November to August – when there is hardly any rainfall at all. But, Núi Chúa itself is greener and wetter than most of the province. This certainly doesn’t mean the weather is unpleasant – it’s quite a relief to be in slightly cooler temperatures. Like other areas across Vietnam where the mountains meet the ocean, the weather patterns of Núi Chúa Peninsular can be erratic, but the sunshine is never away long.
View ‘Núi Chúa Coastal Road’ in a LARGER MAP
The Núi Chúa Coastal Road:
Selected Resources for Travellers & Expats: What's this?