Diving in Vietnam
The popularity of Vietnam as a tourist destination is growing rapidly and with it comes a dive infrastructure that is opening the doors to a multitude of dive sites along its long eastern coastline. Considering the length of Vietnam’s coastline it does come as somewhat of a surprise that most of the diving is based in Nha Trang. Diving in general can be very good with everything from gently sloping fringing reefs to vertical walls down to 50 meters deep.
The coastal waters off Vietnam offer an impressive biodiversity with nearly half of all the species of coral on the planet found here. Marine life includes sharks, morays, rays and all the regular reef visitors. There are several virgin scuba spots that have yet to turn into popular resorts such as Phu Quoc and Con Dao. The future for these pristine diving locations will mean more dive boats, more divers and more dive sites discovered. If you want to see untouched reef and undeveloped islands its time to head off to Vietnam.
There are three locations in Vietnam that offer diving: Nha Trang, Can Dao Island, Whale Island and Phu Quoc Island. With all kinds of great things to see and reasonable pricing it is a country worth adding to your log book.
Nha Trang is Vietnam’s premier beach resort with a couple of kilometers of relatively pristine white beach and several hotels catering to both local and foreign tourists. For a country with such a long coastline it seems surprising that Nha Trang is the only diving hub along it. There are a couple of local islands off shore that offer some interesting diving possibilities and most dive operators here also run to the more remote loactions. Big animals are hard to find here (apart from the local morays) but the abundance of marine life makes fascinating diving. Nha Trang is more renowned for its vibrant nudibranchs and extensive coral biodiversity, over 350 species of coral can be found here. There are several offshore islands but the majority of Nha Trang’s scuba dive trips go to Hon Mun island
This is the island where all dive sites already mentioned in the Nha Trang section are located. It also has a couple of other sites such as Rainbow Reef and Tiger Wall. There are some shallow spots which offer good night diving and a smaller southern island called Hon Mot with a could of good dive sites. There are no wrecks around the islands of Nha Trang as everything above 50 meters has been salvaged by locals
The diving out of Whale Island is spectacular with diving conducted from January through to October. Rainbow Divers have their own dive shop on the island located next to the wharf and each morning the boat departs for two to three dives. The furthest dive site is just over one hour traveling time and it is well worth the journey. Some of the dive sites we visited were:
Hon Trau Nam (or Three Kings): This was easily the most beautiful and spectacular of the Whale Island dive sites. It is named from the three rock pinnacles that break the surface however it’s the underwater marine life that makes this site so spectacular. Mel described the bottom of this site (20 – 35 meters), which is covered yellow, white and purple soft corals and gorgonians as an ‘Underwater Fantasy Land’. This spot was ideal for wide angle photography if one wasn’t too busy photographing all the weird and unusual critters living in the soft corals and gorgonians.
White Rock: This is one of the furthest sites from the Whale Island however the journey is well worth it as it is an incredible dive site. Sheer walls drop from the surface down to depths of 40 meters with several huge pinnacles emerging from the depths. The bottom of the site is covered in black coral trees and gorgonians and on the sandy bottom huge black rays can be seen. The walls are covered in soft corals, nudibranchs and if you are fortunate you may find the leaf scorpionfish that can be found on top of the pinnacles.
Bai Su: This site is within Van Phong Bay and has entirely different marine life to the open ocean sites. This was the only dive site that we were fortunate enough to find a pair of yellow ghost pipefish living in a crinoid. The bottom topography at about 18 meters is rather barren and silty but this is where many unusual invertebrates and fish species were found including the rare Fire Urchin shrimps. The upper region (less than 10 meters) is a pure coral garden with many different species of hard and soft corals covering the reef. This is also an ideal place for snorkeling.
Beach Shore Dive: We only had time to do the one shore dive at Whale Island and this is what we found: 2 species of frogfish, 2 species of seahorses, 11 different nudibranchs, devilfish, stonefish, leaf scorpion fish, two types of morays, pipefish and many other types of fishes and corals. The maximum depth of the diving is about 12 meters and it is one of the most diverse shore dives that we have done. We spent 100 minutes in the water and I would have stayed longer if my camera battery hadn’t died…
The snorkeling right off the beach is also worth while and a good excuse to cool off from the heat! I did learn a valuable lesson that you must be very carefully when you move over some of the shallow areas, as the long spined needle urchins can be incredibly painful when they pierce flesh! At the end of the snorkel you can exit the water directly at the bar and cool off with a local beer whilst watching a spectacular sunset over the mountain ranges and lagoon. Other activities that can be done on Whale Island include sailing, kayaking, volleyball, island walking and it is also an excellent location to photograph local birds and wildlife.
The island of Phu Quoc lies 100 kilometers off the Southwest coastline of Vietnam and is very close to Cambodia. It is almost the same size as Singapore but has been left alone by toursim for many years. Diving here has only been happening for a couple of years and new sites are still being discovered. Marine life is very similar to that found in the Gulf of Thailand with few big pelagics but a lot of smaller reef fish and breath-taking, pristine coral. Unfortunately evidence of dynamite fishing can be seen on some of the reefs here but the island does boast one of the best dive sites in the country with Turtle Island off the Northwest coast.
One of only two Marine National Parks in the country, Con Dao is a 16 island archipelago situated 180 kilometers off the Southeast coast of Vietnam. The island was used as a penal colony by the French up until 1975. Con Dao has largely escaped 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. With over 1,000 hectares of stunning coral reefs teeming with a colorful array of marine life Con Dao supports a high level of biodiversity and over 1300 marine species have been identified so far.
Con Dao’s sea grass meadows support a small population of globally endangered dugong, there are also resident hawksbill turtles that nest on the islands and even playful dolphins. In years to come this area will become one of the countries premier dive spots. We will be updating this page as and when we receive more infomation on scuba dive sites at Con Dao.
Best time to go:
Vietnam is a place of many seasons and when one region is wet, cold or steamy hot, there is always another part of Vietnam that is sunny and pleasant. Basically, the south has two seasons: the wet (May to November, wettest from June to August) and the dry (December to April). The hottest and most humid time is from the end of February to May. The central coast is dry from May to October and wet from December to February. The north has two seasons: cool, damp winters (November to April) and hot summers (May to October). According to the dive operators the best time for diving is from April through to August and we found that conditions in July were perfect. Another travel tip: Take the TET Festival (late January or early February) into consideration when planning a trip. Travel becomes very difficult, hotels are full and many services close down for at least a week and possibly a lot longer.
>>Next Page: Nightlife in Vietnam