Although the precise origins of surfing are unknown, it is one of the oldest sports still practised on earth. Fossil records, geological excavation, and carvings from prehistoric periods dating back as long as 5,000 years ago in Chan Chan, Peru, show that it is not a new thing.
As intrepid surfers began venturing around the world in search of new waves, the frontiers of surfing expanded. Asia unexpectedly became the epicentre of surfing when perfect surf was discovered in Bali, Indonesia in the 1970s. The film Morning of the Earth captures the essence of early surf exploration.
Around the same time as explorers were venturing to Bali, the Vietnam war was in full swing a few thousand miles due north. Despite the horrors they experienced, a few US soldiers discovered that there were waves breaking along the Vietnamese shoreline. As all surfers do, they took the opportunity to go surfing whenever they could. Many of the soldiers claim that surfing in Vietnam saved them from drugs and future stress disorders.
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Vietnam is a beautiful country on the eastern side of the Indian Chinese Peninsula. The country is shaped like the letter S, featuring a coastline of about 3000 kilometres. Beaches of all shapes and sizes accommodate surfing, kitesurfing, and windsurfing, all of which are significant contributors to the tourism sector of the country.
The weather is warm all year round, the locals are amiable, and accommodation is affordable. Vietnamese food is also world-famous for its diversity and flavour.
Pho bo (beef soup with rice noodles) in a local restaurant is not to be missed. Vietnamese coffee is also a delicacy – thick condensed milk served with coffee and ice!
When is the best time for surfing in Vietnam?
For the best surf experience in Vietnam, aim for the winter monsoon, usually between November and December. Around this time, typhoons develop, and they create both localised and long-range swells across the South China Sea.
Since the weather and the water is warm all year round, you won’t be needing a wetsuit.
Interest in surfing in Vietnam was revived when Dion Agius and Mike Losness ventured there in the Taylor Steele movie Castles in the Sky.
Vietnam travel visas
Having travelled to Vietnam on an Australian passport I can testify that entering is a relatively easy process. In 2017, the government of Vietnam introduced what it called the Vietnam E-visa. The E-visa allows its holder a maximum stay of 30 days in Vietnam, and it is received via the internet.
With a valid E-visa, foreigners can reduce the amount of time wasted upon arrival. This visa type is available for people travelling for tourism, study, investment, business, journalism, and so much more.
To obtain the Vietnam online visa, you have to be a citizen of the Vietnam E-visa eligible countries. To know if your country is eligible, you can check on the website, onlinevisa.com.
If you are eligible for an E-visa, you will need to submit the following documents:
A valid passport with at least six months validity from the date of arrival in Vietnam
Image of the Biography page of your passport
A passport standard photograph
The intended address you wish to stay in Vietnam
E-visa application fee, payable via debit or credit card
A valid email address
Travellers are required to print out a copy of the E-visa upon approval. The E-visa is accepted at all airports as well as borders in Vietnam.
There are two main entry points into Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. As a surfer, you’ll want to be further south because the coast of Hanoi is protected from swell by the island of Hainan – which happens to be the centre of the rapidly growing Chinese surf scene.
Further south, around Da Nang you’ll find a range of spots. Check the local surf conditions on Magic Seaweed. As you venture past Da Nang towards Nha Trang and beyond there is excellent potential to find reef and beach breaks when a suitable swell arrives.
Best four places to surf in Vietnam
When it comes to choosing a base for surf exploration in a foreign country it helps to first stay in a traveller-friendly destination. Start with these and when you’re confident, venture off the beaten path.
1. Vung Tau
Vung Tau is just a two-hour road trip from Ho Chi Minh city. It is situated on an exposed peninsula beyond the mouth of the Mekong River.
Vung Tau is blessed with long sandy beaches and surf clubs that rank amongst Vietnam’s best. It is the perfect location for people seeking out a gentle surfing experience, particularly beginners. Waves can reach 2 meters occasionally but you’ll probably be best arriving with low expectations and a board suitable for small waves.
An economic/cultural hub along with its beautiful beach, Nha Trang has earned for itself the name “Gem of the East Sea.” The beach, shaped like the half-moon, is about 7 kilometers in length and is located in the middle of the city. It hosts tourists who come in to explore all the different spots available for surfing.
Usually, the waves here in Nha Trang are gentle with large swells occurring occasionally. It makes the beach perfect for experts and beginners alike.
My Khe beach, or the China beach, is regarded as the most famous surfing area in the whole of Vietnam and deserves its own mention. Just across the bridge from Da Nang, the sandy beach stretches a total of 30km, with plenty of eating places and bars available for rest and recovery after a day at the beach.
The area has a variety of golf courses, resorts, restaurants, and private villas. Yoga, spa, massage and many other therapies are available, making this a perfect family and couples destination.
This is the place where soldiers came to rest, escape the war and catch a few waves. Consequently, a unique surf culture was born when the locals joined in.
To enjoy the best surf experience in My Khe Beach, schedule a visit between May and October. Large wind swells can be surfed all year round.
The Da Nang area is a great base for surf exploration. North of the city you’ll find Nam O Point in a long arcing bay. You have the relatively exposed Lang Co to the north and the whole of China Beach to the south.
The Da Nang Surf School offers classes to newbies, and the classes are reputed to be of international quality.
Da Nang surf conditions can often include wind swell and can change rapidly based on weather conditions. To avoid disappointment bring a fun board and don’t expect perfection. But you never know if you don’t go!
In the right swell, you might like to surf the little stretch of sand in front of the Intercontinental. What a place to stay – even if the waves are flat.
While surfing in Vietnam can be fickle, it certainly remains a valid option for surfers wanting to escape the crowds and explore a rich and friendly culture.
Be prepared to enjoy other activities such as hiking, kitesurfing, or simply chilling out, and you may just score a few epic waves along the way.