Last updated October 2016 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
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Riding the new coast roads from Saigon to Nha Trang, passing superb coastal scenery, is a favourite road trip of mine. All along this route there are campgrounds by the ocean, where you can pitch your tent (or rent one) under palms, eucalyptus, and casuarina trees on the sand, just metres from the surf. New roads have made horrible Highway 1 practically obsolete: only 50km of the entire route is spent on this main artery. A few days riding the ocean roads, admiring the views, swimming in the sea, and camping in the open-air is a fantastic way to experience Vietnam’s south coast. This guide includes a detailed route map and reviews of all the campsites on the Ocean Road from Saigon to Nha Trang.
GUIDE: CAMPING THE OCEAN ROAD
ROAD TRIP DETAILS:
- Total Distance: 550km
- Duration: 3-6 days
- Route: Saigon to Nha Trang via the Ocean Road [MAP]
- Terrain & Scenery: coastal, beaches, fishing villages
- Road Conditions: paved, quiet back-roads, new highways
I’ve written this guide starting from Saigon and heading northeast up the coast to Nha Trang. I’ve arranged my reviews of the campsites geographically, according to the beaches they’re located on. Click on a beach name below to read about the campsites in that area:
- Long Hai Beach: distance from Saigon: 100km
- Ho Tram Beach: distance from Saigon: 120km
- Ho Coc Beach: distance from Saigon: 130km
- Lagi Beach: distance from Saigon: 170km
- Ke Ga Beach: distance from Saigon: 220km
- Mui Ne Beach: distance from Saigon: 270km
- Phan Rang Beach: distance from Saigon: 410km
- Cam Ranh Beach: distance from Saigon: 460km
ABOUT THIS ROUTE & GUIDE:
The new generation of Vietnamese is embracing the ‘backpacker’ mentality of independent travel on the cheap. The result is a mini-boom in campsites, especially on the south coast. Most campsites offer other forms of accommodation as well, but their campgrounds are generally well-maintained, cheap, attractive, and well-equipped, with access to the beach and bathroom facilities. Avoid weekends and public holidays, when many of these campsites swell with domestic travellers escaping Saigon. During the week, most of the following places are blissfully quiet. Some campgrounds rent tents; others do not: see the individual reviews below for specific details. Two good shops for camping gear in Saigon are: Fanfan (www.fanfan.vn) and Lều Du Lịch Trúc Linh (www.leudulich.vn). Useful Vietnamese words to jot down for this trip are: cắm trại (camping) and lều (tent). These campsites are open year-round, but for perfect camping weather, go during the dry season (November to April).
The map below shows the road route and all the campsites along the Ocean Road from Saigon to Nha Trang. Campsite details and reviews follow after the map. (For more detailed motorbike guides along this route click the motorbike symbols on the map and follow the links in the boxes).
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LONG HAI BEACH:
Two and a half hours from Saigon, the first beach on the Ocean Road is Long Hai. However, Zenna Pool Camp is located on the beach in the nondescript town of Phuoc Thinh, just a few kilometres west of Long Hai. Set under dozens of casuarina trees swaying in the sea breeze, Zenna has lots of good, shady areas to pitch your tent. Rental tents come in all sizes: from 2-man to 10-man. The beach is OK, but it’s better as a backdrop than for swimming and lying on. Zenna has two pools with slides (great for kids) which campers can use for 40,000vnd per day. There’s a seafood restaurant and beach bar, and plenty of loungers set under the trees. It’s a decent place to camp for a night if you’re short on time and can’t reach the other beaches. Note that the showers and toilets aren’t very appealing.
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For several kilometres after Long Hai town, the road hugs the shore along a wild stretch of toast-brown sand. About a kilometre after Tropicana Resort, you’ll see a sign for Tam Ngu on the right. Although the camp grounds and bathroom facilities here are fairly basic, it’s still right on the beach and in close proximity to Phuoc Hai fishing village, a genuine working fishing community. To see it in action, take the new corniche road (turn right opposite Phuoc Hai market, just a little north of Tam Ngu) or simply walk along the beach from the campsite in the early morning: dozens of wooden fishing boats moor offshore as their catch is ferried to land in coracles, where women await to organize the fish for market. The campsite and village are rustic and real, so for anyone wishing to see that side of Vietnam, Tam Ngu is worth a night. Seafood is available at the campsite and street food can be found in Phuoc Hai. You can pitch your tent under thatched gazebos in a pleasant garden near the seafront. Prices are as follows: 100,000vnd per person if you have your own tent, or 300,000vnd to rent a 3-person tent.
HO TRAM BEACH:
After heading inland through mangrove forest, the Ocean Road bridges the Ray River. Occupying a sandbar, with the river on one side and the East Sea on the other, the campgrounds at River Ray Estates are extensive and attractive. Pitch your tent on sandy ground under the shade of large casuarina trees that whisper in the wind for 90,000vnd per person. The beach is just a few metres away: a wide swathe of good sand, but blighted somewhat by fishermens’ trash. Yellow-washed brick buildings house decent bathrooms and good outdoor showers. The Danish owner speaks English, and you’ll more than likely be allowed to use the swimming pool. The clubhouse bar serves food and drink. To get here turn right after crossing the bridge and take the road past the large grey Vietsopetro Resort.
A little further up the sandbar from River Ray Estates, the Beach House is a decent new option. This is a good campground (including showers) under casuarina trees with a long beachfront. There are showers and a nice riverfront restaurant. Prices are very reasonable and, when I asked the manager, he said the price is the same to rent or pitch your own tent: 95,000vnd per person.
SAIGON CONTAINER CAMPING
Ho Tram Beach; 091 943 6065 [MAP]
Price: 100,000vnd to pitch your own tent | No tents for rent
This is a new beach camping option, half way along Ho Tram Beach, on the future site of the Saigon Container Resort (which portioned off its land years ago but has yet to do anything with it). Pitch your tent on the sand or under the casuarina trees. It’s a nice spot, but I’ve never met anyone there who can confirm the price for me. However, I’m told it’s a few dollars to pitch your own tent.
HUU NGHI CAMPING
Ho Tram Beach; (+84) 64 3776 777 [MAP]
Price: 50,000vnd to pitch your own tent | 50,000vnd to rent a tent
(Note: although the owners assured me on two separate occasions that camping is allowed here, several readers have written to say that they have not be allowed to pitch tents.) A few kilometres further up Ho Tram Beach, Huu Nghi (signposted to the right) is located on a large patch of exposed beach. Although it’s primarily a seafood restaurant, there’s plenty of sandy space for guests to pitch their tents close to the ocean. Showers and bathrooms are good, and food and drink is tasty and inexpensive. At 50,000vnd per person to pitch your own or rent a tent, it’s one of the cheapest campgrounds in this guide.
PHI LAO CAMPING
Ho Tram Beach: [MAP]
Price: 50,000vnd to pitch your own tent | 100,000vnd to rent a tent
Phi Lao is at the top of the hill just beyond Ho Tram hamlet. They rent tents (100,000vnd) or you can bring your own (50,000vnd) and pitch it on their leafy patio or, if it’s raining, under their roof. There’s no direct access to the beach, but Ho Tram municipal beach is just down at the bottom of the hill. Showers are decent and the restaurant does good chè (Vietnamese dessert).
HO COC BEACH:
Beyond the brash blot of The Grand Ho Tram Casino and Resort, Ho Coc Beach sweeps into the distance, backed by jungled hills. At Ho Coc crossroads, Huong Phong Resort is the first on your right. A large complex, Huong Phong is well-equipped for campers. Small and large tents are available, and there’s lots of space to pitch it. Choose from a sandy patch by the beach or in the shade of casuarina trees or, if it’s raining, on the tiled floor under a thatched gazebo. Bathrooms and showers are good; meals, snacks, and drinks are served throughout the day; and guests can use the swimming pool for 80,000vnd. It can get crowded on weekends, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet, come on a week day instead.
Somewhere between quirky and kitsch and tasteful and traditional, this gigantic, sprawling resort has a good campground. In the centre of the resort complex is Bon Mua Public Beach, where outside guests can pay to access the resort’s beachfront. You can camp here under casuarina trees on the sand, which opens onto a wide white beach and blue water. There’s a breezy bar for drinks and snacks, bathroom facilities are good, and if it rains you can always move your tent under one of the palm-thatched shelters. It’s a lovely spot, but at 200,000vnd to pitch your own tent, it’s (relatively) pricey.
HO TRAM CAMPING
Ho Coc Beach; 096 832 6897 [MAP]
Price: 70,000vnd to pitch your own tent | 200,000vnd to rent a tent
Despite its name, Ho Tram Camping is way beyond Ho Tram Beach: it’s a few kilometres down the Ocean Road from the Saigon-Ho Coc Resort. Accessed via a dirt road, the campgrounds are large and hilly with plenty of trees along the seafront. It’s well set-up for groups of campers, with a range of tents, picnic areas, BBQs, wooden huts, fires on the beach, and a kids playground. Bear in mind that, on weekends, loudspeakers are available to rent, which may lead to anything but a peaceful night by the beach. Prices are very reasonable and staff are nice.
[UPDATE: Sadly, Son My Beach Camping is now closed. However, it is still possible to camp here by the beach with your own equipment.] After an inland stretch through an agricultural landscape backed by towering sand dunes, the Ocean Road climbs a hill. At the top, there’s a sign for ‘Sonmy Beach’ to the right. Follow this pretty, paved lane over the hill, through cassava plantations and down to an isolated patch of empty sand: this is the site of Son My Beach Camping. Quirky yet quiet and understated, this is a wacky collection of wooden beach huts, tents, and thatched gazebos. Pitch your tent on the sand or on wooden pallets in the colourful gardens. The restaurant and bar are great places to relax and watch the fishermen come and go on coracles. There’s a very appealing laid-back ambience here, which is helped by the fact that it’s in the middle of nowhere – which suits me fine. An excellent place to escape urban Vietnam on the cheap with a couple of friends for a day or two.
The Ocean Road hits the coast again, just west of the fishing town of Lagi. Coco Beachcamp only opened in 2015, but it’s been packed ever since. Especially popular with Saigon’s increasingly independent and adventurous youth, Coco Beachcamp is at once bristling with youthful energy and extremely mellow. The man responsible for this happy contradiction is owner, Mr Lê, who’s been in the travel business for years. Lê is keen to build on Vietnam’s growing phượt culture (essentially this words means ‘backpacking’, or travelling independently and cheaply). He’s done a fine job so far, as Coco Beachcamp has proved an extraordinarily successful venture, setting a trend that is now being followed all over coastal Vietnam. There’s a beach bar, lounge chairs, bean bags, a large selection of food and drink, great shower facilities, water sports equipment, and tents and huts of all shapes and sizes. Camping is back from the beach in the sandy gardens. This is pioneering work in a place like Lagi, which is a busy fishing port with miles of undeveloped beach, within a few hours’ drive of Saigon. However, it’s so popular right now (packed even on a Monday) that, despite its mellow vibe, it can feel crowded. .
A new road now leads out of Lagi, heading northeast for several kilometres before rejoining the original road (I’ve drawn the new road on my map because Google hasn’t registered it yet). Just before the junction you’ll see a grandiose arch on the right: this is the entrance to Dat Lanh Resort. It’s a modest place but with a huge amount of land, a generous portion of which is set aside for camping. You can pitch your tent under coconut palms on the powdery sand near the waves. There’s a big pool which campers can use for 50,000vnd. Bathrooms are good, and there’s a beautifully situated restaurant and bar by the sea. Staff at reception are often unsure about the camping situation, but persevere because it’s a great spot for a night.
KE GA BEACH:
LU GLAMPING CAMPSITE
Ke Ga Beach; 090 366 6778 [MAP]
Price: 50,000vnd to pitch your own tent | 75,000vnd per person to rent a tent
After passing the salt fields northeast of Lagi, the Ocean Road winds through dragon fruit plantations to the tiny hamlet of Ke Ga. Just before the village, there’s a wooden signpost on the right for ‘Lu Glamping’, leading down a dirt road to the beach. Opening in December 2016 (just in time for the best camping weather), Lu Glamping is set to join the the ranks of trendy campsites on the south coast, attracting Saigon’s bright young things on weekends and holidays. Taking its cue from Coco Beachcamp (as have so many others), Lu Glamping has a wacky and fun assortment of bric-a-brac lying around its grounds (including a painted mini-bus), among which are a variety of cheap sleeping options, a thatched bar and lounge area, a music stage and, of course, a good slice of beach. Within site of the famous Ke Ga Lighthouse (built during French colonial times, in 1899), the setting is beautiful. Camping, whether in your own tent or renting one of theirs, is very reasonable: 50,000vnd and 75,000vnd per person respectively. But you can also sleep in colourfully-painted wooden huts (more like quirky coffins) or in a converted shipping container with air-con. It’s a lot of fun.
After rounding Ke Ga Cape, where the old French lighthouse stands, a glorious stretch of coastal road eventually ploughs into a casuarina forest. Clusters of resorts line this road. Saint Mary Resort ([+84] 62 3846 346) allows camping in its grounds; either on the grass in the gardens, on the lovely sandy beach, or by the lotus pond, where you can also fish. Prices are 150,000vnd to pitch your own tent, or 200,000vnd to rent a tent, and this includes use of their excellent swimming pool. Right next door, Vinh Loc Eco-Resort ([+84] 62 3846 266) has a large and pretty campsite. It’s very peaceful under the swaying canopy of casuarina trees here, and there’s a pleasing rough and rustic edge to this place. Across the road there’s a fishing lake (40,000vnd per hour), and the resort will cook your catch for 150,000vnd per kilo. However, the management don’t like campers unless they are in a large group, which is a real shame. But you might try your luck anyway – if it doesn’t work out, you can always go next door.
MUI NE BEACH:
After passing through the bustling fishing town of Phan Thiet, the Ocean Road comes out the other side to the resort-packed sands of Mui Ne. Bearing northeast at the end of Mui Ne bay, the road glides along empty sands to Hon Rom Peninsular. The beaches here are far less developed: kilometres of sand and surf stretching into the distance. On the left, just before reaching the peninsular, is the new Bong Lai Tien Canh campgrounds. Set on a green and sandy hillside opposite the beach, this is a large and beautiful slice of nature on which to pitch your tent. Rather unexpectedly, this campsite is run by Sea Links, who are responsible for some of the biggest, flashiest resort complexes in the Mui Ne area, including the Ocean Dunes. They’ve done an excellent job here by letting nature do all the talking: pathways lead through cool, shady groves of bamboo, and into lush fruit plantations where you can camp under cashew and mango trees. The main attraction here is the strange, almost martian, sand formations in the red cliffs behind the campgrounds. A steep walk up the hill affords incredible views of the red cliffs and the entire coastline. A good beach can be accessed by walking across the Ocean Road. There’s a restaurant and hilltop cafe too. This is a fantastic new spot for camping in Mui Ne.
Several kilometres further along the Ocean Road, a giant billboard on the right signposts ‘Long Son Campgrounds’. Down a dirt road, Long Son is the best-equipped campsite on the south coast. The beautiful sprawling gardens are dotted with palm-thatched wooden gazebos, housing a restaurant, bar, games rooms (foosball, table tennis, pool table), excellent washrooms, and cosy lounge areas. The beach is great, but lacking shade. It’s a fabulous set-up. Dozens of rental tents (and hammocks) are spread across the grounds – on the grass under the shade of palm trees, or on the beach under bamboo structures. There are lockers in which to secure your belongings and a ‘dollar menu’ of food and drink aimed specifically at campers. At night, people tend to come together in the central lounge area to eat, drink and share travel stories – it’s all very social. Although Long Son is the perfect backpacker/kitesurfer refuge, it’s also a lunch stop for bus tours, and occasionally hosts large ‘team building’ trips for Saigon-based companies. This means it can sometimes get busy. However, there’s plenty of space for everyone, and the bus tour guests all leave by the evening.
PHAN RANG BEACH:
A fantastic new road now cuts across the white sand dunes of Mui Ne, heading northeast to Phan Ri Cua. Then another new coastal stretch runs along the beach to Lien Huong, where it’s necessary to join Highway 1 for 25km to Ca Na. Turn right at Ca Na fishing port for a spectacular new coast road, hugging the cliffs around Cape Dinh all the way to Phan Rang. Ninh Chu Beach (a few kilometres east of Phan Rang City) is a wide and beautiful bay backed by rugged, boulder-strewn mountains. At the northern end, Ninh Chu Bay Beach Club offers camping on the beach, with fine views back over the bay. The Beach Club is a large open-sided concrete and thatch building on a good stretch of sand. Small and large tents are available for 1-5 people (275,000-350,000vnd). The owners, Mark and Thao, have put a lot of thought into their food and drinks menu: where else could you find German sausage, Mexican burritos, vodka flavoured with local fruits, and a special house sangria in the Phan Rang area? There’s a large American pool table, good showers, comfy bar chairs and beach loungers, and lots of water sports equipment to hire. Food and drink is purchased with vouchers and all prices are in denominations of 25,000vnd. If you want to pitch your own tent here, simply buy a 200,000vnd voucher to spend at the Beach Club during your stay to cover your costs. This region has huge potential; Ninh Chu Bay Beach Club is way ahead of the curve in that respect.
CAM RANH BEACH:
HAI TEO CAMPING
Binh Lap Beach; Sop Promontory; 097 830 0884 [MAP]
Prices: 100,000vnđ to pitch your own tent | No tents for rent
The Nui Chua Coast Road, from Phan Rang to Cam Ranh, is one of the most scenic coastal rides in Vietnam. Snaking around the peninsular just north of Phan Rang, the road drops into the picturesque fishing village of Vinh Hy before climbing out again and winding through a series of gorgeous bays. At the northern tip of the coast road there’s a right turn signposted to Binh Chau and Ngoc Suong Resort. A narrow lane leads along this promontory, jutting out into Cam Ranh Bay. On both sides there are stunning beaches of white sand and clear blue water. This is without doubt one of the best beaches in the country, but it remains mostly undeveloped. However, there are several places to camp here, all of which offer some of the most scenic, atmospheric beach camping available in Vietnam. The first of these is Hai Teo, signposted to the right, 8km after turning off the coast road. A dirt track leads through cashew trees to a gated garden. Let yourself in and close the gate behind you. The family here allow camping on their beautiful, powdery beach for 100,000vnd with your own tent. They can provide food and drink if you ask in advance. It’s wonderful.
A recent addition to the camping scene on Binh Lap Beach, Dao Hoa Vang is located down a dirt path to the right just after the small T-junction. Camping is on the sand by the beach. There’s a beach bar and restaurant, hammocks and bamboo seats, and a very relaxed atmosphere. The beach is lovely, but this is a working beach, especially for lobster catching. As romantic (and delicious) as that may sound, the smell of lobster cages drying in the sun is not so appealing. However, you can always opt for the excellent dorm beds (120,000 per person) just back from the beach, if the smell is too much for you.
BINH CHAU CAMPING
Binh Lap Beach; Sop Promontory; 090 5166 629 [MAP]
Price: 100,000vnd per person to pitch your own tent | 200,000vnd to rent a tent
Next door to Dao Hoa Vang is Binh Chau, which was the first beach camping available in this area. Binh Chau is a simple place with lush gardens and a glorious beachfront. Pitch your own tent on the sand for 100,000vnd or rent a tent for 200,000-300,000vnd for 2-4 people. Food is available but slightly overpriced (although you can get fresh lobster for $45), and showers are a bit rustic, but who cares when you’re on a beach like this! This is the place where I first fell in love with Binh Lap Beach.
ANH TU CAMPING
Binh Lap Beach; Sop Promontory; 0163 585 9541 [MAP]
Price: 100,000vnd to pitch your own tent | 50,000vnd to rent a hammock
Further up the concrete lane beyond Binh Chau and Dao Hoa Vang, you’ll see a sign on the right for Anh Tu. A cashew and mango orchard on raised ground above a boulder-strewn beach bursting with tropical colour, camping here is very atmospheric indeed. Pitch your own tent anywhere on the grounds (including under the thatched gazebos), or swing yourself to sleep in a hammock, or lie out on the ground in a sleeping bag under a mosquito net: 50,000-100,000vnd for any of the above. Showers are decent, food is available, and the owners are a friendly local family. Bliss.
A little further up the road from Anh Tu, there’s a sign on the left for Ngoc Suong Yen Bay Resort. Pay the 50,000vnd entrance fee and take the short dirt track leading to the other side of the promontory. To the left of the resort there’s a spectacular double beach dotted with large boulders and ringed with palm trees. You’re allowed to pitch your own tent here for 300,000vnd (up to 3 people in a tent), or the resort can arrange 2-person tents for 500,000vnd. There are bathroom facilities and you can walk along the beach to the resort’s gorgeous seafront bar and restaurant for food and drink. It may seem relatively expensive for camping but, trust me, the location is jaw-dropping and, providing you avoid weekends and public holidays, you could have it all to yourself. Inquire at the resort reception for camping permission and tent rental.
On the western side of the promontory there are a couple of pretty fishing hamlets where you can find camping supplies, such as instant noodles and water. You can also follow the signs to Sao Bien Resort, which is yet another beautiful bay studded with boulders. Sadly, you’re not allowed to camp here, but the resort’s cheapest beds are in cute little wood and thatch huts on the beach for 400,000vnd for 2 people sharing. The price covers use of all their activities, including kayaking on the mirror-flat waters of Cam Ranh Bay. Think of this as ‘glamping’, and the price doesn’t seem too bad at all.
To get to Nha Trang, follow the coast road west for several kilometres until it hits Highway 1. Turn right and take the highway for 25km, passing through Cam Ranh town. At My Ca, turn right off Highway 1 and take the bridge towards Cam Ranh airport. From here, follow the airport road north as it winds its scenic route around the cliffs and into Nha Trang. [MAP]
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