“Charlie don’t surf!”—the famous line from Apocalypse Now—might be one of the only times in history that the Vietnamese people and surfing have been referred to in the same breath. Yet while the basic premise of this derogatory statement does hold true—there are very few local surfers in Vietnam, even now—that isn’t to say that there aren’t waves to be had. Although Vietnam will never become a household name for its sub-par beach breaks and points, it does offer a unique surfing and cultural experience—enough so that Taylor Steele saw fit to include the country in his acclaimed film Castles in the Sky. Whether tacked onto a surf trip to nearby Indo or Sri Lanka, or taken simply on its own merits, a visit to Vietnam will always be worth the trip—and you might as well surf while you are there!
The Surf: For the most part you are looking at short interval swell on soft beach breaks and the occasional point, although when the right storm in the South China Sea corresponds with good local wind conditions and ideal sandbars, stellar conditions can occasionally result. Waves are typically beginner to intermediate level.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Nam O: A left hand point breaking near Da Nang, this wave needs a lot of size, but can be good on its day. A nearby river mouth means dirty water but beach break options if the swell is small.
- Bhai Dai Beach: A series of beach break peaks in Nha Trang, this is one of the few places in Vietnam with a “water sport shop,” and board rentals are available.
- China Beach (Non Nuoc): Probably Vietnam’s most popular and longest-surfed spot, China Beach in Da Nang was the site of Vietnam’s first surf contest in 1997.
- Mui Ne: Not a great surfing wave due to the wind, but popular with kite and windsurfers. On the rare occasion that the wind goes slack the beach break supposedly gets hollow.
- Unknown Beach Breaks: The stretch of coast between Da Nang and Hoi Han has potential for any number of unknown quality sand bars on the right day. Spend some time exploring and it’s entirely possible to pioneer a new spot in Vietnam!
The Water: Dirty but warm. 75–86 F (24–30 C) year round, so you’ll range from comfortable to hot.
The Season: The monsoon season brings swells, but also adverse winds. Your best bet is October through March.
The Vibe: There are very few surfers in Vietnam (with the exception of China Beach), so the only vibe will be the one you bring. On land, the Vietnamese can be a bit pushy with tourists, but if you enjoy bargaining you’ll have a blast.
Things To Do: Vietnam has a well-established bar scene up and down the coast, and is smack in the middle of the typical backpacker route, so if you are looking for a social life you’ll find it. Halong Bay in the north is quite beautiful and worth a visit, and trekking in Sapa is also a lovely and culturally rich experience. Hanoi is a lively city with an interesting French quarter, and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) has a lot of historical significance. To see the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective, try visiting the Cu Chi tunnels or the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
Where To Stay: Since this is backpacker central, hostels and other cheap accommodation are in abundance. If you are really on a budget, you can easily sleep on $2/night.
What To Bring: A wide, thick hybrid shortboard or a longboard. All surf accessories, as you are unlikely to find anything outside of Da Nang and Nha Trang—and even there selection will be limited. A backpack and Lonely Planet’s Guide to Vietnam. An open itinerary, as the rest of South East Asia also deserves your attention.
Getting There: Air Asia hubs out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, flies pretty much everywhere in South East Asia, and often has incredible sales on tickets (sometimes as cheap as $0.00 plus taxes!). There are numerous daily flights into Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and overland travel is also very cheap in South East Asia. Visas should be arranged before arrival. Airport codes: HAN (Hanoi) and SGN (Ho Chi Minh City).