First published September 2015 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
Calm, clear waters, rocky escarpments, coves, hidden beaches and forested hills are what characterize Vung Ro Bay, 100km north of Nha Trang. 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 Ca 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 village, climbing the steps to the historic French-built lighthouse, driving the deserted coast road, and swimming at Bai Mon, one of my Top 5 Beaches in Vietnam. Despite its natural beauty and ease of access, travellers rarely make it here, and there’s no tourist development whatsoever. But, that’s about to change, in dramatic fashion, with the announcement of two multi-billion dollar projects for the area. If you want to see Vung Ro Bay, 2015 is probably the last chance you’ll get.
Images of Vung Ro Bay:
VUNG RO BAY
Vung Ro Bay is formed by a tongue of land that spreads southwest and shelters the main shoreline from the winds and weather coming off the East (South China) Sea. The large main bay is dotted with hundreds of floating homes, fish farms and wooden fishing boats. A dramatic backdrop is created by rugged, forested mountains that culminate in a free-standing slab of stone on the highest peak, known as Núi Đá Bia, which means ‘Tombstone Mount’. North of the main bay there’s a perfect V-shaped inlet, filled with golden sand, called Bai Mon Beach, which is great for swimming. From the beach there’s a long, steep staircase up to a lighthouse, originally built by the colonial French in 1890. Climb to the top of this lighthouse on rickety spiral stairs for superb panoramic views of the entire bay.
Although there’s no accommodation at Vung Ro Bay for now, it’s only a short drive (by taxi, motorbike taxi or rented motorbike) from Đại Lãnh Beach to the south, or Tuy Hòa City to the north. The latter has regular train, plane and bus connections to all major Vietnamese cities, and the former can be easily reached by bus or rented motorbike from Nha Trang (read this for more about Đại Lãnh Beach and how to get there from Nha Trang). Indeed, part of the fun of visiting Vung Ro Bay is the drive there: approaching from the north or south on Highway 1, via the spectacular Ca Pass. One of the most dramatic, scenic stretches of Vietnam’s major national highway, the Ca Pass cuts along a mountainside, offering tremendous views down over Vung Ro Bay. If coming from Tuy Hòa, the road to the bay is clearly signposted to the left at the top of the Ca Pass, but if coming from Đại Lãnh it’s not: just look out for a right turning once you reach the summit of the pass. There’s also a scenic and quiet back road to Vung Ro Bay from Tuy Hòa, the last few kilometres of which run alongside the ocean with beautiful views over Bai Mon Beach.
Until recently, Vung Ro Bay was famous for a military incident rather than 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 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, the bay is soon to be developed by one of the most powerful family empires in America, the Rockefellers. Earlier this year 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. Take a look at the promotional video below to see what’s in store for this area, or find out more about the development on their website: www.visitvungrobay.com
All this means that Vung Ro Bay will be a construction site for the next few years, and after the projects are completed they’ll be minimal public access to the beaches and bays in this area. Work was supposed to have started by the end of 2013, but when I last visited, in early 2015, there was no sign of it. However, if you want to see Vung Ro Bay before these massive projects take over, 2015 may well be your last chance. The cheap guesthouses on Đại Lãnh Beach make a good base for exploring Vung Ro Bay, or for more style and comfort try the CenDeluxe Hotel (www.cendeluxehotel.com) in Tuy Hòa City, which has a swimming pool and a ‘sky bar’ with panoramic views over rice fields and the foothills of the Annamite Mountains. Cheaper accommodation in Tuy Hòa can be found on Hùng Vương Street.
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