Last updated July 2017 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
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With calm, clear waters, rocky escarpments, hidden coves, beaches squeezed between forested hills, remote fishing villages, and excellent transport infrastructure, Vung Ro Bay has really got it going on. But, despite a mammoth investment plan and construction proposal by a giant American corporation a few years back, there has so far been no development whatsoever on this achingly beautiful promontory on Vietnam’s south-central coast. This means that, for now at least, Vung Ro Bay is easily accessible, stunningly beautiful, and largely empty of foreign tourists. Change is bound to come sooner or later, so visit now if you want to see Vung Ro Bay before construction and development spoil its current condition. Ideal for independent travellers on two wheels, Vung Ro Bay is great as a day-night trip from Nha Trang or as a stop on a longer coastal route.
GUIDE: VUNG RO BAY
In the following guide, I’ve written a description of Vung Ro Bay, including things to see, places to stay and eat, and how to get there, as well as an annotated map of the area. Anytime of year is fine to visit Vung Ro Bay, but the best weather conditions I’ve experienced have been between March and September. Vung Ro Bay makes a good trip from Nha Trang for independent travellers looking to get off the beaten track for a couple of days. The bay can be combined with other excellent beaches in the area to create a longer coastal itinerary (see Related Posts). Vung Ro Bay is also an essential stop on most of my Saigon-to-Hanoi motorbike routes.
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Vung Ro Bay, Phu Yen Province
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Ever since I first glimpsed this gorgeous natural harbour – from the seat of my bicycle, high above the bay on the precarious, meandering switchbacks of the Cả Pass – I’ve always thought of it as one of the loveliest stretches of coast in Vietnam. Over the years, I’ve visited many times; exploring the floating fishing villages, climbing the steps to the historic lighthouse, driving the deserted coast roads, and swimming at Bai Mon, one of my favourite beaches in the country. Despite its natural beauty and ease of access, foreign travellers rarely make it here (although it’s popular with domestic road-trippers), and there’s practically no tourist development at all. However, when I first wrote this guide to Vung Ro Bay, in 2014, plans were afoot for an enormous, multi-billion-dollar project, that would transform the area. I said, back then, that if you wanted to see Vung Ro Bay, 2015 was probably your last chance to do so. Thankfully, none of that has come to pass. But, the local people I spoke to on my most recent visit (July 2017), all said that the land had been sold and it was just a matter of time before construction began.
9 Images of Vung Ro Bay:
Vung Ro Bay is formed by a tongue of rugged land that spreads southwest, sheltering the main shoreline from the winds and weather coming off the East Sea. The large main bay is dotted with hundreds of floating homes, fish farms and wooden fishing boats. A dramatic backdrop is created by craggy, forested mountains that culminate in an 80-metre-high, free-standing slab of stone atop the highest peak, known as Núi Đá Bia – ‘Tombstone Mountain’. North of the main bay, there’s a perfect V-shaped inlet, filled with golden sand, called Bai Mon. This fabulous beach is great for swimming, and it’s the only place that offers any form of accommodation in Vung Ro.
The beautiful bay at Bai Mon, one of my favourite beaches in Vietnam
From the beach, there’s a long, steep staircase up to a lighthouse. Originally constructed under French colonial rule, in 1890, the lighthouse was destroyed in 1965 during the war, and rebuilt in 1995. Visitors to Mon Beach can climb the rocky hillside via a steep stairway, winding all the way up to the lighthouse, inside which there’s a rickety spiral stairwell leading to the light itself. From here, the panoramic views of the bay are superb. The lighthouse was one of the first ever to be built in Vietnam, and locals came to refer to the area as Mũi Điện – ‘Electric Cape’. (Entrance to Mon Beach and the lighthouse is 10,000vnd).
Part of the fun of visiting Vung Ro Bay is the drive there. Whether approaching from the south or the north, the journey involves taking some incredibly scenic coastal roads, offering wonderful vistas of the bay’s cobalt-blue lagoon and jungle-covered headlands. A quiet, paved road (Route QL29) leads from the top of the Cả Pass down to the sinister-looking but spectacularly-located Vung Ro Port, and then east along the bay’s shoreline, through a scruffy fishing village, over a small, craggy pass to the wide sands of Mon Beach, until heading northwards along the coast road to Tuy Hoa Airport. It’s a great, easily-navigable little road trip. (For more details see Transportation.)
Until recently, Vung Ro Bay was best-known for a military incident that occurred during the Vietnam War, rather than for its natural beauty. In February 1965, a North Vietnamese vessel was found to be smuggling war supplies into Vung Ro Bay in order to aid the North’s campaign to ‘liberate’ the American-backed South Vietnam. On discovering this, the latter sent in ships, planes and a submarine to sink the North Vietnamese boat and capture the smuggled goods, which included thousands of arms and a million rounds of ammunition. The North Vietnamese lost that battle but they eventually won the war, and today there’s a large monument and memorial near the water’s edge, erected to commemorate the Vietnamese soldiers who fought and died defending the supply ship and the bay.
It seems somewhat ironic then that, 50 years after the ‘Vung Ro Bay Incident’, as it came to be known, plans were in place for the bay to be developed by one of the most powerful family empires in America, the Rockefellers. A few years ago, it was announced that a $2.5 billion resort, marina, tourism and residential project, funded by Rose Rock Group, a Rockefeller-backed investment firm, would be built on Vung Ro Bay. Oil is where it all started for the Rockefeller Family back in the 19th century, so it’s perhaps no surprise that the gigantic development in Vung Ro Bay is closely linked to a huge $4 billion oil refinery that’s also to be constructed here, taking advantage of the bay’s natural deep-water harbour. However, these plans seem to have vanished into thin air, and there’s certainly no evidence of construction in the area yet. Personally, I hope it stays that way, but to get an idea of where Vung Ro Bay might be heading, take a look at the promotional video below, which lays out the ‘masterplan’ for the area. (Anyone who has more details about the development of Vung Ro, please comment at the bottom of this guide or send me an email.)
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Although there’s no real accommodation options in Vung Ro Bay at this time, it is possible to camp on Mon Beach, and this is a great way to experience the area. Alternatively, Dai Lanh Beach, just 30 minutes south of Vung Ro has a few good mini-hotels, and Tuy Hoa, 45 minutes to the north, has a host of decent accommodation options.
Camping on Mon Beach: Just to the right, after going through the entrance gate to Mon Beach and passing the bridge, a small concrete path leads down to a small, corrugated-iron-roofed structure, called Chú Mười. Run by a pleasant Vietnamese couple, two-man tents are available to rent for 80,000vnd ($3.50) a night. Or, if you have your own tent, you can pitch it for free (you just have to pay the 10,000vnd entrance fee). Depending on the weather conditions, you’re free to make camp anywhere on the grounds, including right on the glorious, wide, golden sands of Mon Beach, next to the sapphire-coloured surf. If you don’t want to spend the night under canvas, Mr Mười (the husband) will let you sleep on one of their beds, or on the floor, for 40,000vnd ($2). This is all excellent value for budget travellers, and there can be few campsites better located than this.
Dai Lanh Beach: A beautiful arc of sand at the bottom of the Cả Pass, just south of Vung Ro Bay, Dai Lanh Beach is a good place to base yourself for the night, while spending the day exploring the bay. Several small hotels and local guesthouses (nhà nghỉ) line the main road as it passes through town and along the beach. The best is Binh Lieu Hotel (058 3949 138; 200,000-300,000vnd a night). For more about accommodation on Dai Lanh Beach, take a look at my full guide here.
Tuy Hoa City: A sizable and rarely visited city, Tuy Hoa is not far north of Vung Ro Bay, and a good place to stay for a night or two while exploring the area. There are many accommodation options here. Cheap, clean, and large rooms are aplenty at the many mini-hotels that line Hung Vuong Street: try Thanh Long Hotel (from $10) among many others. Excellent mid-range value can be found at the Cendeluxe Hotel (from $50), which has a swimming pool and spectacular views of the surrounding area from it rooms and sky bar. VietStar Resort & Spa, a few kilometres north of the city, is also a marvelously landscaped, atmospheric, and tranquil place to stay (from $60).
Tuy Hoa City has lots of good-value hotels: this is the Cendeluxe (from $50)
Food & Drink:
There are very few dining options in and around Vung Ro Bay. At Mon Beach, there’s a small shack on the right after the ticket kiosk, called Chú Mười. Run by an hospitable older couple, they can rustle up good, home-cooked meals, including some fresh seafood, free-range chicken, and, of course, rice and local vegetables in season. This is a good option (in fact, it’s the only option) if you’re camping on the beach here. A popular choice for domestic visitors is to dine at one of the floating seafood restaurants (bè nổi) in Vung Ro Bay itself. It’s difficult to imagine a more scenic setting for a meal. The fish and crustaceans are as fresh as can be: fished directly from the floating farms scattered across the lagoon. Prices are pretty reasonable considering this is some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever have. Choose from lobster, red snapper, giant shrimp, oysters and all number of other seafood. Simply cooked and accompanied by lots of local beer, this is a meal to remember; perfect if you’re travelling in a group. The floating restaurants are a short boat ride from the shore. Look out for signs by the roadside.
Vung Ro Bay is located 100km north of Nha Trang and 40km south of Tuy Hoa. It’s easily reached by motorbike, bicycle or taxi via well-made and scenic coastal roads. However, public transportation, although regularly passing nearby on Highway 1, does not reach Vung Ro Bay itself. Flight and rail connections to Tuy Hoa City are good and regular.
By Motorbike, Bicycle, Taxi: Approaching Vung Ro Bay from the south, take the Cả Pass on Highway 1 (QL1A). This is one of the most scenic sections of coast road in Vietnam, affording superb views down over Vung Ro Bay. At the top of the pass there’s a right turn (due east) signposted to Vung Ro Bay and Mon Beach. This smaller paved road (Đường 29) leads down to Vung Ro Port, from where it turns sharply east again, heading along the shoreline of Vung Ro Bay. The road then climbs over a forested hill to Mon Beach. From here, continue north along the ocean road past a fabulous stretch of coastal scenery. Then keep northwards on Route 29 (QL29) and Phuoc Tan-Bai Nga Street all the way past Tuy Hoa Airport and over the long bridge into Tuy Hoa City. If you have your own wheels, it’s a beautiful ride and can be incorporated with other scenic routes in the area to create a longer coastal road trip (see Related Posts). If you don’t have your own transportation, you should be able to arrange a taxi to take you on this route from most accommodations in either Dai Lanh to the south or Tuy Hoa to the north.
Vung Ro is accessed via spectacular roads: this is Vung Ro Bay seen from the Cả Pass
By Bus: All the north-south buses, that ply Highway 1 between Tuy Hoa and Nha Trang, bypass Vung Ro Bay by taking either the Cả Pass or the new tunnel under the pass (due to open in September 2017). This means that, if you want to reach Vung Ro Bay by public bus, you will need to ask the driver to drop you somewhere near the Cả Pass and then try to find a xe ôm (motorbike taxi) to take you the rest of the way to Mon Beach. However, this is quite unlikely, so you would be better off trying to arrange a xe ôm or regular taxi from either Tuy Hoa or Dai Lanh Beach.
By Air: Tuy Hoa Airport is only 25km north of Vung Ro Bay, linked via a beautiful coast road (QL29). Tuy Hoa is served by Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar, and Vietjet: between the three of them, there are pretty much daily flights between Tuy Hoa, Saigon and Hanoi. This airport is sure to see increased flight connections as tourist development spreads along this stretch of coastline.
By Train: Tuy Hoa is a major stop for all Reunification trains travelling on the main north-south line. You can buy train tickets to Tuy Hoa from all other major city stations along Vietnam’s coastal rail line.
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