Vietnam shares its borders with China, Laos and

Vietnam shares its borders with China, Laos and Cambodia.
Though its total land area rounds off at just 329,560 km2
the country supports a population over 83 million. Vietnam
is well known for its rich culture and picturesque views,
but most of its recognition was gained from the Vietnam
War, which tormented the country from 1957 to 1975. This
popularity together with today’s ease and affordability of travel
has made the country a marked tourist destination with a
booming tourist industry; in just the first half of 2005, 1.7
million tourists visited the nation, a 24% increase since 2004.
By David Harasti
The captivating pictures of
Vietnam’s underwater realm
helped me decide in a heartbeat,
Vietnam here we come!
Most visitors arrive at Vietnam through Ho Chi Minh City
international airport in the south or Hanoi International airport in the
north. This time our journey commenced and finished through Ho
Chi Minh. Next year, we plan to explore the north, arriving through
Hanoi for a different experience.
Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam, despite Hanoi being
its capital. Also known as Saigon, the first and most stark impression
you will get from this city are the bikes, bikes and ever more bikes!
Motorbikes are apparently the most efficient form of transportation
around Vietnam and the locals manage to fit everything on the back
of a bike, including a fridge! If I could give only one tip for travellers
to Ho Chi Minh, it would be to note that pedestrian crossings in
Vietnam are not like the crossings in Australia. It appears that the rule
in Vietnam is for pedestrians to stop as the bikes and cars will not.
Crossing the road was kind of like playing ‘Frogga’ on the old Atari.
Some of the more interesting sites in Ho Chi Minh are the
Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, The War History Museum,
Reunification Palace and the old US Embassy. It is best to find
accommodation in ‘District 1’ as all the major attractions; shops,
markets and restaurants are within easy walking distance. We stayed
at the Caravelle Hotel which is without a doubt, one of the most
luxurious hotels we have stayed in and it cost only US$70 a night.
A night visit to the Saigon Saigon Bar at the Caravelle is a must.
There are many markets in District 1 where you can purchase DVD’s,
t-shirts, clothes, bags, perfumes and pretty much anything else you
can imagine. For those travelling on a shoestring, several budget
accommodations are also availablealong District 1 and 3, with rates
beginning at US$20 a night.
As for diving, Nha Trang is the prime location in Vietnam. It is a
coastal town that is fast developing into a major tourist destination
in Vietnam. High-rise hotels are being built along the beachfront
and it is beginning to look like a mini version of Australia’s Gold
Coast. There is a huge variety of hotels to select, ranging from
the behemoth, five-star Sunrise Resort (US$100 per room) to the
cheaper three-star Green Hotel (US$30 per room). Restaurants and
bars are located throughout the city centre and we found that you
can’t pass up on a dinner and drink down at the Sailing Club on the
main beach. Other good places for food and a ‘quiet’ drink include
Crazy Kyms, The German Beer Garden and The Rainbow Bar.
Rainbow Divers is the largest dive operator in Vietnam and
is ownedand run by PADI Course Director Jeremy Stein with
excellent support from many dive instructors including
Grant Martin and Craig Anderson. Additionally, Rainbow Divers
was the only dive centre that provided Nitrox and accommodated
rebreathers; they were very efficient in providing pure O2 fills as well
as arranging for sorb for my Sports Kiss Rebreather. A note when
sending sorb to Vietnam: Prepare for delays at customs as they are
likely to suspect it is a hazardous substance. Diving on a rebreather
in Vietnam was also an eye opener for the local dive guides who
referred to me as ‘Rocket Man’ because of the two small cylinders on
my back!
Rainbow Divers’ main shop is in the centre of town and is located
at the Rainbow Bar; a diveshop, restaurant and bar all in the same
location. After a day of diving most divers would head straight to
the bar for a bit of mingling but mostly to share their days’ diving
experiences whilst sharing a drink.
Divers have three boat options when diving out of Nha Trang.
The largest boat carries twenty or so divers and visits the closer
and shallower dive sites that are more suited for training dives and
snorkelers. Our favourite boat was the new speedboat named ‘Ocean’
that comfortably accommodated ten divers and could access more
distant sites including one of the best dive locations we came across
- the ‘Electric Nose’. They also had a super fast speedboat named ‘Eric’
that caters for four divers and can be chartered for the day to visit
the sites that are not frequently dived. Most of our diving was off
the Ocean speedboat, which was the choice boat for small groups
and photographers that liked to get away from the chaos of open
water classes! That said, I’d also recommend a day of diving from the
big boat to sample the complete Rainbow Divers experience, which
is essentially sensational food served between dives, and a top crew
that is friendly and helpful.
Over 20 different Dive Sites to choose!
We’ve chosen to list these as our favourites from Nha Trang:
Electric Nose
Madonna Rock
No one on the boat could explain how this site, a huge rock pinnacle
emerging from 45 metres and breaking the surface, was so named. But
that didn’t matter as this is without a doubt one of the single best dive
sites that we had been too. Like most dive sites in Vietnam there is an
absence of mega fauna but the colours and diversity of soft corals made
it one of the most prolific spots for macro life. Over fifty different species
of nudibranchs were recorded from this one spot as well as numerous
types of shrimps, crabs, flatworms, cowries and mantis shrimps. The
nudibranch diversity was incredible and seven of the species we found
were new discoveries that have yet to be described. The walls of the
pinnacle were covered in a huge variety of soft corals and there was a large
swim through that was lavished by thousands of bright yellow sunflower
corals. This site was so good that we went back every day and even after
four visits we still hadn’t managed to explore the entire site.
It was not very difficult to see how this dive site got its name;
two large triangular shaped rocks sticking out of the water were
reminiscent the conical bra designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and made
famous by Madonna on her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. There are a
couple of excellent swim throughs and caves which were filled with
millions of small glass fish. Within the caves you can find many unusual
flatworms and shrimp species. This is also a good location for observing
ornate ghost pipefish.
Moray Beach
This is a very popular site with all the dive boats and hence it can be
quite crowded underwater with several students on their training dive.
This is an excellent location to photograph anglerfish, ribbon eels,
devil scorpionfish and out on the sand you can find sea whips with
host shrimp and gobies as well as Saddleback anemonefish. In the
shallows the coral density is vast with large colourful soft corals and hard
plate corals that many small tropical fish species hide in.
The walls of the pinnacle were covered in a huge variety of
soft corals and there was a large swim through that was
lavished by thousands of bright yellow sunflower corals.
We only had time to do one shore dive at
Whale Island, but managed to find two species
of frogfish, two species of seahorses,...
...11 different nudibranchs, devilfish, stonefish,
leaf scorpionfish, two types of morays, pipefish
and many other types of fishes and corals.
The snorkelling right off the beach
was also worthwhile and a good
excuse to cool off from the heat!
Whale Island
Every year between April and July, the whales and the whale sharks come
to stay in the archipelago and feed on the masses of krill and plankton.
The diving out of Whale Island was spectacular with dives conducted from
January through to October. Rainbow Divers has their own dive shop on
the island right next to the wharf and each morning the boat departs for
two to three dives. The furthest dive site is just over an hour’s journey,
and is well worth the effort. Some of the dive sites we visited were:
White Rock
This is one of the furthest sites from Whale Island however the journey is
well worth it as it is an incredible site. Sheer walls drop from the surface
down to depths of 40 metres 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 a leaf scorpionfish resting 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 metres is rather barren and silty but this
is where we found many unusual invertebrates and fish species including
the rare Fire Urchin shrimps. The shallower region (less than 10 metres)
was a pure coral garden with many different species of hard and soft
corals covering the reef. This is also an ideal place for snorkelling.
Beach Shore Dive
We only had time to do one shore dive at Whale Island, but managed
to find two species of frogfish, two species of seahorses, 11 different
nudibranchs, devilfish, stonefish, leaf scorpionfish, two types of morays,
pipefish and many other types of fishes and corals. The maximum depth
at this site was only about 12 metres but was one of the most diverse
shore dives we’d ever done! We spent 100 minutes in the water and I
would have stayed longer if my camera battery hadn’t died.
The snorkelling right off the beach was also worthwhile and a good
excuse to cool off from the heat! A valuable lesson I learnt was that you
must be very careful when moving over some of the shallow areas, as
the long-spined needle urchins can be incredibly painful should you get
pierced! At the end of the snorkel we exited the water directly at the bar
and cooled off with a local beverage whilst watching the spectacular
sunset over the mountain ranges and lagoon. Other activities available
on Whale Island include sailing, kayaking, volleyball, island walking and
it is also an excellent location to photograph local birds and wildlife. SD
Getting There: Many airlines fly into Vietnam daily from most
major cities. There are regular flights with Cathay Pacific
from Hong Kong and from Singapore with Singapore Airlines
as well as flying direct with Vietnam Airlines. Internal flights
are with Vietnam Airlines. From Asia, Sri Lankan Airlines or
Emirates Air via Colombo, and Malaysia Airlines and Singapore
Airlines. There are direct flights from Australia on Malaysia Air
via Kuala Lumpur or Singapore Airlines via Singapore
Entry/Visa requirements: Tourist visas valid for a single
30-day stay cost about US$40.00 in Bangkok. Getting it can be
a hassle, so it’s best to contact your travel agent.
Language: Vietnamese (official), Russian, French, Chinese
and English
Climate: Hot and humid, around the low 30°Cs (high 80°Fs).
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). While the north
has cool, damp winters (November to April) and hot summers
(May to October).
Best time to go: Take the Tet Festival (23rd day of the 12th
month of the Lunar calendar) 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.
Best time to dive: From April through to August and we found
that conditions in July were perfect.
Electricity: 220V 50Hz
Currency: 1 USD = 15,928.00 VND (Vietnam Dong)
Dive operators:
Rainbow Divers:
Blue Diving Club:
Sailing Club Divers:
Indochine Divers:
Vietnam Explorer:
Coral Reef Dive Center:
The Dive Shop:
Scuba Zone:
More information :
Hoi An Beach Side Resort:
Whale Island Resort:
Caravelle Hotel:
Vietnam tourist information:
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