Vietnam is a relative newcomer to the global dive scene. But, with a coastline that stretches 3,400 kilometers/2,100 miles along the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea, it was inevitable that divers would begin exploring and then wanting to share their finds with the world. The area off Nha Trang has started to attract savvy divers looking for something untrammeled and unique. With offshore pinnacles and shallow sites off Whale Island that are full of invertebrates, including pipefish, seahorses, dozens of species of nudibranch, frogfish, ribbon eels, and leaf scorpionfish, among others, Vietnam's reputation for the strange and unusual is on the rise. You can dive all year round and the main dive season along this coast runs from January to October, with the best conditions from April to August. Above the water, Vietnam's unique culture reflects both Asian influences and French colonial influences. The food and festivals and dense cities and cloud-cloaked rainforests will challenge your dive time with topside choices.
When to go:
You can usually dive all year round in Vietnam but March through October is the main dive season in most places.
Marine Life Seasons:
Hawksbill turtles nest here from May to September.
When to Get the Best Deals:
May to September.
What to Pack:
3/2 mm wetsuit in summer, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, comfortable shoes that can get wet for hiking, DAN card, long sleeved lightweight shirts, long trousers for cool nights, a light jacket for cool evenings, small medical kit.
Seasonal averages: 25°C/76°F in winter and 30°C/86°F in summer.
Seasonal averages: 22°C/72°F in winter and 33°C/93°F in summer.
Dong (VND); Credit cards are accepted at most places.
Valid passport; check with local immigration office for visa requirements.
Included in your airfare.
What to Eat:
Flavorful rice or delicious noodles topped with lightly cooked vegetables and tasty pieces of meat, chicken or fish form the foundation for most Vietnamese meals. Pho (noodle soup) can be enjoyed everywhere, at any time of day. In Nha Trang, you'll find fresh seafood and bun cha ca - grilled fish and noodles in broth. In Phu Quoc, try the seafood specialties including crab, squid and shellfish and the famous fish sauce.
What to Drink:
Most locals drink green tea, but you can also find French-roast coffee to start your day. Bia hoi is the low alcohol beer that is brewed daily and sold cold at street bars. There are many brew pubs and commercially brewed beers in each area of the country, with 333 being one of the best known and available almost everywhere.
Thap Ba Hot Spring Center in Nha Trang for private mud baths; you'll find Buddahs and rainforest adventures; Visit Temple of Literature in Hanoi; the ancient capital of Vietnam, HoaLu; Elephant Hot Springs to unwind; as well as numerous historic sites from the Nguyen Dynasty.
Customs and Culture:
The Vietnamese culture has been heavily influenced, especially by the French and then more recently by US culture.
World Food Festival, July, Vung Tai City; Hue Festival of Cultural Heritage Honor, June, in Hue; Huong Pagoda Festival, March.
Electricity and Internet:
220V/50 HZ; Internet common in hotels and tourist areas.
Drink the water?
Bottled water is recommended
Vietnamese; Chinese, French and English are widely spoken.
Amazing Marine Life
Weighing in at as much as 1,360 kilograms/3000 pounds, these gentle mammals looks something like a cross between a walrus and a pug dog.
These small, elongated sharks sport unusually long tails and frilly fins.
Hawksbill and green turtles can be found swimming in leisurely fashion or napping under ledges on most reefs, and nest on the beaches here.
Barracuda seem to hover in the water everywhere.
Delicate and small, but when seen through the macro lens they have a fierce aspect of a fantasy dragon.
Adding color and movement to any reef they're on, fairy basslets illuminate the fantasy of an exotic reef.
Distinctive bands of white and orange mark these fish, which are often found sheltering among the tentacles of an anemone.
Wily and secretive, the octopus is often found in holes and crannies of reefs and wrecks.
Numerous species of these frilly, brilliantly colored invertebrates can be found of Vietnam reefs.
Most often found in holes, caves, and wrecks, moray eels sometimes venture out so divers can see their entire snakelike length.
Top Dive Spots
Moray Beach, Nha Trang:
Renowned for its vibrant nudibranchs and more than 350 coral species, this site also features scorpionfish, lionfish, clownfish, the rare black frogfish and white frogfish. The moray cave, which gives the site its name, also shelters network pipefishes, multibar pipefish, razorfishes, trumpetfish, leaffish, and stonefish, as well as the extremely rare devil scorpionfish that "walk" across the sand.
Fisherman's Bay, Nha Trang:
Featuring hard and soft corals, this site hosts frogfish, ghost fish, sea urchins, clownfish, and damselfish.
Madonna Rock, Nha Trang:
This site features several caves at different depths, that are breeding grounds for many species of fish that school in the caves under dramatic shafts of sunlight.
Big Wall, Nha Trang:
This vertical drop-off extending to 30 meters/100 feet offers a colorful smorgasbord of soft corals. Look for butterflyfish, parrotfish and angelfish, as well as other varieties at depth, such as groupers and jacks.
Ho Trau Nam, Whale Island:
Look for manta rays, eagle rays, stingrays, and jacks along the giant rocks drop-off. At the depth of 30 meters/100 feet, enjoy colorful soft coral, sea slugs, and a very rare black coral, as well as nudibranchs, giant angelfishes, scorpionfish, and huge stonefish.
Whale Island Bay:
Beginning on a sandy bottom in the middle of damselfish, clownfish and anemones, and moray eels, this shallow dive (15 meters/50 feet) features large rocks where trevally, snapper and grouper abound. Seahorses, scorpionfish, stonefish and flying gurnards can be found in the sand. It's also a great night dive, accessible from the beach, with phosphorescent plankton, giant crabs, flatheads, pipefish, sea snakes, eels, spotted moray, squid and octopus.
Dry Island (Hon Ko), Phu Quoc:
On the surface you'll see a small string of desolate rocks, but underneath is a stunning reef system that goes well beyond the surface. Volutes (miter shells), rays, bamboo sharks, nudibranches, catfish and scorpionfish make up some of the marine life.
Nudibranch Gardens, Phu Quoc:
The topography of this site ranges from large boulders in the deep to a coral garden in the shallows. Look for nudibranchs, bamboo sharks, giant puffers, crustaceans, and blue spotted rays.
Turtle Island North, Phu Quoc:
This site's fringing reef features fairy basslets, groupers and damselfish. Stretching away from the island, a string of large boulders host barracuda, blue spotted rays, nudibranches and batfish can be found.
HTMS Chang, Koh Chang:
This is a spectacular new wreck dive, sunk on the 22nd of November 2012, sits on the bottom at 30m, the topdeck on 21m, the captain's cabin at 12m, and the mast almost breaches the surface. The ship is 100 m long, making it the biggest wreck in Thailand. Only a short time after the sinking it many fish have taken refuge there already; barracuda, grouper, squid and octopus, batfish, shrimpfish make up some of the interesting diversity of marine life.
The islands protected as part of Con Dao National Park since 1993 have largely recovered from the exploitation and destructive fishing that have been the fate of other reefs in Vietnam, and is considered one of the best examples of marine conservation in the country. The coral reefs teem with more than 1300 marine species. Con Dao's sea grass meadows support a small population of globally endangered dugong, hawksbill turtles that nest on the islands, and playful dolphins.
Located in Cu Lao Cham Marine Park, this area is home to 155 species of corals, 202 species of fish and 84 species of molluscs. The dive sites consist of many caves and swim-throughs over rocky reefs, as well as shallows abundant with hard corals and reef fish. Look for ribbon eels, nudibranchs, and the occasional harlequin shrimp.