Travellers have been keeping an eye on Cam Ranh Bay as a possible future destination for years now, and on our visit we were greeted by a magnificent, absolutely enormous bay, filled with turquoise waters and rimmed with green hills -- it wasn't hard to see the potential of the spot.
Cam Ranh Bay has had its 15 minutes in Vietnam's maritime history. Considered to be one of the finest deep-water harbours in the world, the bay has been used both in peace and war time by the French, Americans and the Russians. Yet when all the boys and their toys packed up and left, the bay retreated back to a simpler existance and today most of the boat traffic is limited to small fishing vessels, nary an aircraft carrier in sight.
The bay was once ringed with white sand beaches, but locals -- obviously not of the sunbaking variety -- long ago dug fish farms into much of it. A pity for all you sun-hedonists, but the locals had to make a living long before the tourists came along, so there you have it.
But the news isn't all bad.
While plans have long been in the works to build resorts in the area, so far, they've yet to break ground on a single development and at first, it seemed there was little reason to stop in Cam Ranh. Sure you can take a look around the bay and enjoy some seafood along the way, but we spent a day exploring the bay and made a startling find.
Not all the beaches have been given over to fish farms. Far from it in fact.
There are quite a few beaches, mostly on a peninsula jutting into the bay, that are completely unspoiled and absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The natural beauty here is reminiscent of what Ko Phi Phi in Thailand must have looked like before it's 'fall from grace.' The water is clear and clean, becoming a shimmering turquoise in the bright sun, and the sand is fine and almost white.
What's more, but for the fisherman and the locals who make their way here for a dip in the late afternoon, no one uses the beach.
Yes -- you too can go where no Speedo has gone before.
Of course, there are obstacles. The beaches are a good 20km from any sort of accommodation or facilities, there's no public transportation, and no regular tour buses. A surprising number of locals don't seem to even know the beaches are there, or if they do, assume no tourist would ever want to visit them -- whenever we asked the folks in Cam Ranh, "Where's the beach?" they always said, "Nha Trang!" 60 km up the road.
But if you're willing to make the effort, and you're itching to get away from the crowds and find that perfect secluded beach, Cam Ranh Bay has got what you're looking for. If you're staying in Nha Trang, it makes sense as a day trip by motorbike.
The town of Cam Ranh, 60km south of Nha Trang and 50km north of Phan Rang-Thap Cham, is nothing special in itself. Other than a Cao Dai temple that's worth a look, and a rather unique Catholic church, painted up in powder blue and incorporating a fusion of Asian and Western architectural styles, there are no great sites to take in or places to visit. The town is dominated by route 1A which attracts a lot of fast moving, heavily loaded trucks blasting their horns and kicking up gravel.
Cam Ranh's tourist infrastructure is minimal, and we found no one who spoke any significant amount of English. We also found that the western tourist could be sometimes subjected to some very aggressive, bordering on obnoxious, curiosity. That said, many of the locals treated us to drinks and food and welcomed us with open arms.
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Text and/or map last updated on 21st August, 2009.
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