Given the serpentine shape of the country, most Vietnamese live quite near to the ocean, and over the centuries the offshore waters have seen a fantastic variety of seafaring vessels. These range from the tiny fishing coracles pulled up on the beach along the length of the country to luxury cruisers that glide through the waters of Ha Long Bay.
The greatest concentration of waterborne transport in Vietnam is in the Mekong Delta, where locals row sampans to market with a scissor-like motion, and hulking car ferries help vehicles cross the wide arms of the Mekong River. However, with several new bridges opening recently, the days of car ferries in the delta appear to be numbered…more on the Mekong Delta.
The type of ferry that most tourists are likely to use in Vietnam are the hydrofoils that run on a few particular routes. This is the most popular way to cross from the Mekong Delta to Phu Quoc Island, with jetties at both Rach Gia and Ha Tien. It’s also a quick and efficient way to zip between Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau on the coast as well as between Ha Long City and Mong Cai on the Chinese border.
Travel by hydrofoil is speedy and generally safe, though it can be unpleasant when the sea is rough; at such times the crew will usually distribute sea-sickness pills to passengers before departure. For those who have not used this form of transport before, hydrofoils can be quite exciting as they plane across the surface of the water.
For many visitors to Vietnam, their principal waterborne experience is at Ha Long Bay, where a huge variety of vessels ply the water, ranging from luxury cruisers that are floating hotels to quaint wooden ships kitted out like Chinese junks, and ugly-looking, converted fishing boats. Needless to say, what you pay is what you get when it comes to a tour of Ha Long Bay…more on Ha Long Bay.
Another popular boat trip is a tour of the islands off the coast of Nha Trang, though for some tour companies such a trip is little more than a party on sea, with a floating bar and music blasting out across the ocean. These tours usually stop for snorkelling and visits to remote beaches, and include a lunch for an all-inclusive price of US$10-$15 per person…more on Nha Trang.