Last updated September 2017 | Words, photos and video by Vietnam Coracle
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Stretching thirty kilometres into the East Sea, like a giant causeway to a sunken castle, Hon Gom Sandbar is a deserted, rocky and beguiling peninsular two hours north of Nha Trang. A long and rugged finger of land pointing southwards into the ocean, its eastern side is characterized by miles of empty, exposed, wild and windy beach, while, on its western side, fish farms and fishing hamlets shelter in peaceful, protected coves, where the water is as calm as a lake. The tourism potential of Hon Gom Sandbar is huge. A wide new road has been constructed along most of its length, paving the way for future development. But, for now, the road is as empty as the beaches either side of it, making Hon Gom Sandbar a great place to enjoy some of Vietnam’s less-trodden beaches. Perfect as a day-night trip from Nha Trang or as a stop on a longer coastal itinerary, Hon Gom is also popular with young Vietnamese road-trippers (phượt), who come to watch the sunrise at Vietnam’s most-easterly point (debatably) at Mũi Đôi.
GUIDE: HON GOM SANDBAR
In this guide, I’ve written a description of Hon Gom Sandbar, including things to see and do, places to stay and eat, an annotated map and a short video. Because Hon Gom Sandbar sticks right out into the East Sea, it’s subject to some strange weather patterns. The summer months (May to August) are probably the best time to go. However, I’ve visited this area a dozen times or so and I’m yet to experience rain. Hon Gom Sandbar is a good day-night trip from Nha Trang, but it’s even better when combined with the area’s other excellent coastal attractions (see Related Posts), or as a stop on one of my Saigon-to-Hanoi routes.
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Hon Gom Sandbar, Van Phong Bay
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A short film of Hon Gom Sandbar
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Hon Gom Sandbar is in a particularly beguiling part of south-central Vietnam, where an eastward spur of the Truong Son Mountains meets the ocean, providing an imposing backdrop to the beaches in this area. Just before Highway 1 rounds a rocky cape via the Cổ Mã Pass, the sandbar heads southwards into the East Sea, becoming more rugged and mountainous the further it gets from the mainland. Rocky outcrops and bluffs branch off in all directions, creating lovely coves and protected bays. The beaches on the east face of the sandbar tend to be windy and exposed, stretching for miles without interruption; the beaches on the west face are calm and sheltered, giving rise to fishing communities and shrimp farms.
Between the entrance to a new tunnel and the beginning of the Cổ Mã Pass, the turn off from Highway 1 onto the sandbar road (DT651) is signposted to Dam Mon. A two-lane road heading along the west side of the sandbar, this route immediately opens up expansive views over the bays, mountains, and rice fields to the south and west. Just a couple hundred metres after the turn off, a small cobbled path on the left leads steeply over sand dunes to a good beach on the eastern side. This used to be an excellent swimming spot but, during the construction of the nearby tunnel, it was used as a temporary shelter and work station for labourers: now the beach is tainted by litter and construction debris. However, it’s still worth stopping here to walk along the beach and look southwards down the amazing sweep of deserted beach backed by steep drifts of sand draped in purple-flowering convolvulus and topped with casuarina and eucalyptus trees. Completely undeveloped for miles, this long beach still suffers from trash, left by picnickers and fishermen. The sea here often has a distinctive azure tint. It can be very calm in the mornings but, by the afternoon, giant rollers come crashing in from the East Sea.
Back on the sandbar road along the western shore, the water here is always as smooth and flat as glass, because this is part of Van Phong Bay, a large and beautiful inlet whose seas are sheltered from the northeast winds by the Hon Gom Sandbar, which acts like a sea wall, protecting everything to the west of it. The good conditions mean that there’s a lot of fishing on this side of the sandbar, especially in the form of shrimp farms, which line the coast for several kilometres. However, these eventually fade away, leaving long curls of inviting beach lined with shrub, weeds and stocky palm trees. The swimming is good, but watch out for submerged mooring poles and fishing-related debris. The views west over Diep Son Island and Van Phong Bay, filled with wooden fishing vessels, are superb. There seems to be a special quality to the light in this area: bright but slightly muted and mysterious.
The road eventually bears left, crossing over to the east side of the sandbar, affording great vistas back down over the long beach towards Highway 1. From here, the scenery gets bigger, drier, and sandier. Like other parts of this region, such as Mui Dinh, there’s something of the Wild West in the desolateness, aridity, and windswept quality of this promontory. Sand drifts threaten to cover the road surface, big boulders appear on the hillside, and corrugated-iron shacks cluster on the sands of Hon Ghenh, offering seafood and refreshments.
After several kilometres of sand dunes and casuarina forests, the sandbar road leads into Dam Mon fishing village. A rustic-looking settlement, Dam Mon’s grimy harbour is crammed with blue-painted wooden fishing boats. The air is thick with the smell of diesel and rotting fish. But local people are friendly, and exploring the narrow back-alleys reveals a much gentler, charming side to Dam Mon, particularly in the mornings or afternoons. Stop by for a drink and some street food, or even stay the night in a local guest house.
Dam Mon used to be the end of the road; but now it’s the beginning of a wide new highway. Just before reaching the scruffy outskirts of Dam Mon village, there’s a junction: take a left here onto a brand new, four-lane highway-to-nowhere. Big new roads like this one, totally off the beaten track, with no traffic on them whatsoever, are quite common in Vietnam, especially in beautiful coastal areas such as this. The government can see the tourist potential, so they build big new roads to facilitate future development. Thankfully, development often takes years to get off the ground, which means that, in the meantime, roads like this serve to open up access to scenic areas that would otherwise be impossible to get to for independent travellers. Riding them is terrific fun.
The new road winds out of Dam Mon, passing straight through what must once have been the village cemetery, but most of the graves have been reduced to rubble during the construction of the road (this is another common consequence of developing infrastructure in Vietnam). At this point, the sandbar widens and becomes very rugged. The road ploughs straight through dry, desert-like landscape, where giant boulders have fallen down the mountainsides like the crumbling walls of an ancient fort. East of this road is where the trailhead to Mũi Đôi, Vietnam’s most easterly point, begins. It’s a long and scenic trek to a pretty bay where you can camp and watch the sunrise in the morning. This is particularly popular with young Vietnamese road-trippers (known as phượt) and can get busy during public holidays. (The lighthouse at Vung Ro Bay, just north of Hon Gom Sandbar, also lays claim to Vietnam’s most easterly point.) The new highway comes to an abrupt end above Son Dung hamlet, where there are fabulous views over the bay, and a pathway leading to a new pagoda perched on a rocky bluff above the water.
At the end of the highway, a very steep concrete path leads down to Son Dung hamlet. Nothing more than a handful of half-built, half-ruined brick-concrete-and-thatch fishermen’s houses around a small cove, Son Dung doesn’t appear that appealing at first. But in among the free-roaming chickens, wild-growing weeds, fighting puppies and scattered fruit trees, is Vuon Xoai, an informal restaurant and campsite that you’re likely to fall in love with. Occupying a sandy patch of land shaded by a 70-year-old mango tree, with steps leading straight into the gorgeous bay surrounded by smooth boulders and palm trees and dotted with fishing boats, Vuon Xoai is a budget traveller’s gem. The owners, a local couple, are warm and friendly. Even if you’re not staying here, the deck chairs are good for a relaxing drink and a swim in the placid bay. In the early evening, the sun sets in the middle of the bay, sculpting the contours of the islands and mountains, and bathing the scene in a purple light. There are no roads in Son Dung hamlet, only sandy pathways, so you may have to leave your motorbike at the parking lot by the steep concrete lane. A night here can be memorable, and I have a personal attachment to Vuon Xoai, because this is where I took a photo of a coracle at dusk while camping here with my friend in 2012, which became the logo for this website.
Although the new highway ends above Son Dung hamlet, it is possible to continue further along an extension of the road as in winds over to the next bay, where Mr Nghi’s Beach (058 6539 766) is located. An extremely pretty bay of soft sand, calm waters, casuarina trees, and boulder-strewn headlands covered in jungle foliage, Mr Nghi’s Beach is an excellent place for a swim, a meal, or a night by the sea. Boat tours often stop by during the day, but if you stay the night, you’re likely have this whole enchanting location to yourself. And so, this is the end of the sandbar road for now, but construction was ongoing during my last visit, suggesting that access to further reaches of the sandbar will continue over the coming years.
Accommodation on the sandbar is still very limited, but there are several budget places to stay, and a mid-range resort on one of the islands. There are a few good guest houses and mini-hotels in the surrounding area too, namely on Dai Lanh Beach.
On the Sandbar:
Dam Mon: On the scruffy outskirts of Dam Mon fishing village, there are a couple of cheap nhà nghỉ (local guest houses). Just before entering Dam Mon village, you’ll see signs on the right side of the road for Thanh Suong Motel (0258 3507 333) and Hai Ha Motel (0912 273 018). Both of these are very local and cheap (150,000vnd per room), but they are clean and comfortable enough for one night if you’re on a budget.
Son Dung: However, a better and far more atmospheric budget option is to camp on the beautiful sands of Son Dung Bay, further up the sandbar. At the end of the deserted new highway, a small concrete path leads down to Vuon Xoai (Mango Orchard). It might seem unlikely but, among the free-range chickens, play-fighting puppies, crumbling brick homes, and wire mesh fences, is an extremely romantic place to spend the night. Vuon Xoai is essentially a family home with a large sandy garden leading straight onto the placid waters of Son Dung Bay. Here, you can rent a tent (150,000vnd per 5-person tent) or bring your own (100,000vnd) and pitch it under a giant 70-year-old mango tree growing out of the soft sand right next to the bay. The swimming is excellent and the sun sets in the middle of the bay. Vuon Xoai is also a good restaurant. More expensive, and equally romantically-located, Mr Nghi’s Beach (058 6539 766) is on the next bay up from Vuon Xoai. A new paved road (an extension of the empty new highway) curls around to a gorgeous sandy beach. Rooms are small wooden huts raised above the ground on plinths under eucalyptus trees just back from the beach. Simple and sparse, the rooms are overpriced (600,000-800,000vnd; 2-4 people) but it’s hard to care about that when you’re enjoying this marvellous, calm cove all to yourself. There’s also a restaurant. (Note: at the time of research, a couple of other places to stay were being built in Son Dung.)
Whale Island Resort: [BOOK HERE] Accessed by boat from Dam Mon or Son Dung, Whale Island (Hòn Ong) is just off the coast from the sandbar. Whale Island Resort is a peaceful and secluded place to spend a night in the calm bay. Swimming, snorkeling and diving are good and the resort is in a beautiful position. However, as the only place on the island, it’s a captive market: you’ll have to eat all your meals at the resort. (Bookings must be made in advance.)
Dai Lanh Beach: At the northern end of the sandbar, where it meets Highway 1, the Cổ Mã Pass descends into Dai Lanh Beach. A pretty location, Dai Lanh has several good accommodation options that can be used as a base from which to explore the sandbar during the day. The best is Binh Lieu Hotel (058 3949 138; 200,000-300,000vnd per night). For much more about accommodation on Dai Lanh Beach, see my full guide here. Another option is to stay at one of the mini-hotels along Highway 1 just before reaching the turn off for Hon Gom Sandbar. In particular, Motel Van Duyen (058 3938 239; 200,000-350,000vnd) has clean and comfortable rooms.
Food & Drink:
There are places to eat and drink in the two fishing villages on the sandbar: Dam Mon and Son Dung. Dam Mon is the larger settlement of the two and good for light refreshments and street food snacks if you venture down the very narrow alleyways. It’s worth exploring if, like me, you’re the kind of foodie who prefers street vendors to restaurants. But Son Dung is where you should head for a proper seafood meal. There are several restaurants here, some of which cater to domestic tour groups that occasionally stop by on small boats for a meal while cruising the surrounding islands of Van Phong Bay. Because these restaurants are serving mostly Vietnamese customers (who tend to be much more discerning than foreign diners), and because the seafood is caught or farmed within sight of the restaurants, the seafood can be really good. The obvious choice for most people is the restaurant on Mr Nghi’s Beach, where tables and chairs are laid out under palm-thatched gazebos on a fine sand beach. There are English translations on the menu, prices are fairly reasonably, and the food is good. Personally, I like Vuon Xoai Restaurant, which has a more rustic and local appeal. It’s an informal, family-run place, and prices vary considerably because seafood is generally sold by the kilo: be patient and bargain politely if you need to. My last meal was so fresh that I had to wait half an hour while it was caught from the ocean. Get here at mealtimes (11am-1pm for lunch, 5pm-7pm for dinner) otherwise you may not be able to get any food at all. A couple of seafood shacks have also opened on Hon Ghenh Beach which are worth trying.
Hon Gom Sandbar is 80km north of Nha Trang and 45km south of Tuy Hoa. The Sandbar is best explored with your own wheels, although it can also be reached by buses which pass by the turn off for the sandbar on Highway 1. Boat tours that include the sandbar can be arranged from Nha Trang and Van Gia, often including Diep Son Island too.
By Motorbike, Bicycle, Taxi: Ideally, visit Hon Gom Sandbar on two wheels. If you don’t have your own motorbike, you can find one for rent in Nha Trang or Dai Lanh (with a little bit of persistence) by asking at your hotel. Prices should be around 150,000-200,000vnd per day. Another option is to hire a taxi. Obviously, this would be very expensive from Nha Trang, but a local taxi from Dai Lanh (again, ask at your hotel) would be much more affordable. The ride on Highway 1, from Nha Trang to the sandbar, takes about 2 hours. It’s quite scenic and the road has recently been repaved, so it’s in decent condition. If coming from the south (Nha Trang), the turn off the highway for the sandbar is just after passing the entrance to the new tunnel; if coming from the north (Tuy Hoa and Dai Lanh), the turn off is just before the entrance to the tunnel. In both directions, the turn is clearly signposted to Dam Mon. Once on the sandbar, there is only really one road (DT651), which stretches from the Highway 1 turn off, along the western shore, then crossing over to the eastern shore, before bearing left, just before Dam Mon, all the way to Son Dung, where the road ends. There’s a gas station halfway along the sandbar. (If you’re on a motorbike road trip, Hon Gom Sandbar can be combined with only great rides in the area: see Related Posts).
By Bus: It’s possible to take any of the north-south buses that ply Highway 1 and ask the driver to drop you at the turn off for the sandbar. However, from there you’d have to either find a xe ôm (motorbike taxi) to take you along the sandbar road, or wait around for the infrequent local bus that occasionally trundles up to Dam Mon. So, unless you have lots of time to spare, this isn’t really an option.
By Boat: Boat tours, which include a stop at Son Dung on the sandbar, can be arranged in Nha Trang (ask at your hotel) or from Van Gia. The latter is the port from which most boats leave, and the trip is usually combined with a stop at Diep Son Island.