Vietnam's coastal coral diving gems await exploration

By Tam Anh   June 29, 2024 | 10:00 pm PT
Discover Vietnam's diverse coastal treasures with unforgettable coral reef diving experiences, from the serene shores of the northern coast at Quang Ninh to the southernmost tropical paradises of Phu Quoc.

Coral reef diving is always popular with tourists on summer beach vacations. From north to south, Vietnam’s diverse, vast and varied coastal regions offer day diving tours to admire coral reefs. Travelers can go snorkeling, scuba diving, or use a diving helmet for underwater walks. Below, local guides and tour operators have shared their favorite recommended destinations and services, as shared by local guides and tour operators.

But remember, no matter where you travel to wander the underwater world, do not step on, break, bend, or even touch coral reefs directly. Corals are sensitive creatures prone to damage, and direct contact can destroy these valuable natural treasures we all admire.

Co To Island, Quang Ninh

San hô ở đảo Cô Tô. Ảnh: Xuân Hoa

Coral reefs off Coto Island. Photo by Xuan Hoa

Located in northeastern Vietnam, Co To Island is part of Quang Ninh Province, approximately 80 km offshore from mainland Vietnam.

Officially operational since only April last year, Co To is the only licensed coral reef diving spot in the north. Off the coast of this tiny, remote island tourists can admire coral at Thanh Lan Commune’s most famous spots: Vung Tron beach, Hon Chim islet, and Hon Ong Tich islet.

Diving tours here cost VND1.5 million (US$59) per person, inclusive of electric car transfers, boat rides to diving spots, fruits, drinks, diving equipment, and insurance. Additionally, there are underwater walking tours for VND1.3 million. For a range of about VND100,000 to VND300,000 per person visitors can also rent row boats, take underwater photography tours, and enjoy dining on super fresh local seafood while at sea or on shore. All activities are open to children from 6 years old.

For underwater walks, tourists are equipped with a diving helmet weighing approximately 30 kg, capable of withstanding high water pressure at depths of around 20 meters. The helmet is connected to a long oxygen tube extending from a pump on the boat so you can breathe easily deep under the ocean's boundless waters.

Son Tra Peninsula, Da Nang

Situated 8 km northeast of central Da Nang City, Son Tra Peninsula is a prominent geographical feature along the central coast of Vietnam.

Son Tra Peninsula boasts beautiful beaches such as Nam Beach, Rang Beach, But Beach, and Bac Beach. This coastline, with steep slopes and clear water, is ideal for fishing and coral reef diving. Day tour packages cost around VND600,000 per person.

Situated 8 km northeast of Da Nang City Center, Son Tra Peninsula is a prominent geographical feature along the central coast of Vietnam.

Son Tra Peninsula boasts beautiful beaches such as Nam Beach, Rang Beach, But Beach, and Bac Beach. These beaches, with steep slopes and clear water, are ideal for fishing and coral reef diving. Each day tour package costs around VND600,000 per person.

Tours depart from the city center in the morning. After visiting various places, tourists head to the coral reef diving area. Son Tra Peninsula has five locations within its coral protection zone, covering approximately 134 hectares, including Hon Sup, But Beach, Nom Beach, East Bac Beach, and Huc Lo.

The coral reef diving area is near Hon Sup, about 1.8 km from the shore. Tourists are provided with life jackets, goggles, and snorkels for shallow diving and coral reef exploration.

Cu Lao Cham, Quang Nam

Cu Lao Cham is located off the coast of Hoi An, Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam. Cu Lao Cham is an archipelago comprising eight islands, known for its clear waters, coral reefs, and marine biodiversity.

According to information provided by Son Tra Travel Joint Stock Company and published on the Hoi An World Heritage website, an official site managed by the Center for Culture, Sports, Radio & Television of Hoi An City, for an up-close experience with the coral reefs at Cu Lao Cham, you can choose from three options.

Snorkeling is the most popular choice, costing VND150,000 per person. Participants receive life jackets, masks, and a brief safety orientation.

Deep Diving, costing VND800,000 per person, allows you to dive to a depth of around 5 meters, with expert guidance and all necessary equipment provided. Underwater Walking, ideal for those who wish to walk on the ocean floor, uses a special 30-kg helmet that feels much lighter underwater, and is priced at VND950,000 per person.

Prices for these activities cover only the equipment, expert guidance, canoe transfer to the site, and 15 minutes of underwater exploration. They do not include food, drinks, or towels.

After purchasing a ticket, visitors are taken by canoe to either Hon Dai or Bai Xep. Hon Dai is an uninhabited islet with natural beauty, used only for swimming and coral viewing. Bai Xep, also known as the "coral beach," features the most vibrant reefs and clear, deep waters, making it an ideal spot for exploration.

Ly Son, Quang Ngai

Ly Son Island lies off the coast of Quang Ngai Province in central Vietnam. This particular seascape is volcanic in origin, with unique geological formations and abundant manifold marine ecosystems.

Coral reef diving activities on Ly Son Island mainly focus on shallow diving off Be (Small) Island (An Binh Island). If staying on Be Island, tourists can buy tours here or travel independently from Lon (Big) Island.

A typical experience costs around VND550,000 per person, including shuttle buses to visit points of interest, fishing, coral reef snorkeling and standup paddleboarding (SUP) for the day. Visitors are instructed to row bamboo coracles to Bai Sau then given life jackets and dive masks to observe corals at depths of 1-2 meters.

Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh

Lặn khai thác rong mơ ở hòn Khô, Quy Nhơn. Ảnh: Dũng Nhân

Diving to harvest seaweed at Hon Kho, Quy Nhon. Photo by Dung Nhan

Quy Nhon is a coastal city in Binh Dinh Province known for its pristine beaches, such as Ky Co Beach and Hon Kho Island, which offer excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities.

Binh Dinh’s main coral reef viewing spots are the beach of Ky Co in Nhon Ly Commune and Hon Kho island in Nhon Hai Commune. Hon Kho is located within the region's main bay, making it relatively calm and one of the most beautiful coral reef viewing spots in Quy Nhon open to tourism. The coral reefs at Hon Kho are close to the shore, just 1-2 meters below sea level.

Visitors to Quy Nhon can enjoy the beauty of coral reefs simply by wearing a life jacket and snorkeling mask. You’ll see a vibrant show of colors from schools of small fish swimming around the area. In the summer, the presence of sea grapes here makes Quy Nhon ideal for photography enthusiasts, particularly in the summer.

The cost for walking underwater tours in Quy Nhon ranges from VND1 million to VND1.2 million per person for a duration of 20 minutes, including 15 souvenir photos. Scuba diving with a tank costs approximately VND700,000 to VND800,000. Snorkeling services and equipment are usually included in island tours, but can costs VND50,000 for children.

Vinh Hy Bay, Ninh Thuan

Located near Ninh Chu Beach and Nui Chua National Park in southern Vietnam, Vinh Hy Bay is one of the most beautiful bays in the country.

It is highly recommended to join a glass-bottom boat tour to explore what’s underneath the bay’s waters. During the 2-hour journey, tourists travel by boat through Yen Cave, Turtle Island, Rai Cave, and are provided with diving gear and snorkels to discover the underwater world below.

Each boat carries about 10 people, with prices ranging from VND1.5 to VND2 million per boat. At the end of the ride, tourists are dropped off at Coc Beach to wind down and enjoy fresh seafood at their own expense. Some tours might include lunch deals, so inquire before booking.

Nha Trang, Khanh Hoa

The city of Nha Trang, a popular south-central Vietnam beach destination in coastal Khanh Hoa Province was one of the first places in the country to organize the nation’s first coral reef diving tours.

From Nha Trang, tourists can purchase tours to islands such as Tam Island, Mieu Island, Tranh Beach, and Mot Island. Besides boat tours, island sightseeing and swimming, tourists can snorkel, scuba dive, and walk the seabed.

In recent years, some famous coral reef diving spots in Nha Trang like Mun Island have been temporarily closed to protect coral reefs and marine ecosystems.

Depending on the agency, full-day island tours including lunch range from VND600,000 to VND800,000. If you opt for scuba diving with a tank or underwater walking, the costs will be twice as much. Scuba diving certification courses are also available here. Participants are required to register in advance and undergo a full health assessment to ensure they meet the requirements. Prices start from VND10 million for each course.

Phu Quy, Binh Thuan

Located off the coast of Binh Thuan Province in southern Vietnam, Phu Quy Island is approximately 120 km from Phan Thiet City.

Can Beach on Phu Quy Island is a hotspot for SUP and diving enthusiasts. This coral reef covers an area of about 1 km2, located on the east side of the island. The reef is incredibly diverse, boasting stone coral, table coral, and cauliflower coral, combined with seagrass beds and a cornucopia of colorful fish.

To reach the coral viewing area, visitors must travel about 300 meters from the shore. The tours typically include SUP and snorkeling. The best time for coral viewing is from March to August each year. Visitors are equipped with a SUP board, paddle, life jacket, snorkel mask, breathing tube, and fins. Divers can have their photos taken underwater or on a SUP board using a flycam.

Snorkeling prices range from VND250,000 to VND350,000 per adult. A full package tour costs around VND800,000.

Lặn với ống thở và chân vị ở đảo Phú Quý. Ảnh: Huỳnh Ka

Diving with snorkel and fins at Phu Quy island. Photo by Huynh Ka

Phu Quoc, Kien Giang

Phu Quoc Island is Vietnam's largest island, located in the Gulf of Thailand, off the southwestern coast of Vietnam. It is part of Kien Giang Province and is known for its pristine beaches, clear waters, and rich marine biodiversity, making it a popular destination for both domestic and international tourists.

Visitors to Phu Quoc Island often opt for day tours on speed boats encompassing 3-4 islets. These tours typically operate from 7-8 a.m. until 4-5 p.m., departing from An Thoi Harbor, located in the south of the island.

Itineraries usually include visits to islands such as Hon Mong Tay, Hon May Rut, Hon Gam Ghi, Hon Roi, and several others. Lunch is served on one of the islands and guests have the opportunity to be photographed in sessions with professional photography teams, either underwater or on a SUP captured by a flycam. The cost for these tours ranges from VND550,000 to VND700,000, which includes shallow water snorkeling. Do keep in mind that if you are staying on the northern part of the island, an additional transportation fee may apply.

For a more immersive coral reef experience, tourists can book underwater walking tours at the Coral Park reserved for tourism. This additional service costs between VND1 to 1.2 million per person and is not included in the standard tour package. But visitors are not allowed to enter the Phu Quoc Marine Protected Area, which conserves coral reefs.

Con Dao, Ba Ria - Vung Tau

Con Dao is an archipelago located off the southeastern coast of Vietnam, in Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province. It is known for its rich marine biodiversity and historical significance, with a history as a former prison site during the French colonial era and the Vietnam War. Today, Con Dao is a national park and a popular destination for eco-tourism and diving.

The diving season in Con Dao is typically from March to September. The premier diving are the islets of Hon Bay Canh, Hon Tai, and Hon Cau. For those who prefer not to travel extensively, Ong Dung Beach on Con Dao offers a convenient alternative.

According to Con Dao National Park, some coral reefs in Con Son Bay, Dam Tre, and Hon Cau are bleached due to high seawater temperatures. Since May, scientists have been assessing these areas to develop strategies to protect the coral and mitigate the negative impacts of tourism.

A typical coral diving tour in Con Dao costs around VND700,000 per person, which includes the tour itself and diving with a scuba tank. Visitors are provided with all necessary diving equipment and safety instructions at control stations, ensuring a secure and enjoyable diving experience.

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