Story: Huynh Phuong
Photos: Nguyen Ngoc Thien

Join Heritage Magazine and dive into the seas of Central Vietnam to explore spectacular forests – not of trees but of coral.

A woman explores a sandy path on the sea floor off the volcanic island of Ly Son in Quang Ngai province

Coral reefs are like miniature cities

Coral reefs are comprised of tiny polyps that bind their calcium carbonate shells to form large colonies. Corals come in many shapes and sizes, from hard corals resembling brains or tree branches to soft corals that look like fans or pens. These coral reefs and ridges form ideal habitats for other marine creatures like fish, jellyfish, and starfish. They also create fascinating underwater scenery. Vietnam has the advantage of a long coastline that stretches for 3,260 km from North to South, with various heavenly islands, and over 1,100 km2 of coral reefs. This allows island tourism and Vietnam’s diving industry to operate year-round. The best time to explore coral reefs in the Central region is between April and August.

Before diving and taking underwater photographs, people should take diving lessons from a reputable dive-training center to gain the knowledge and experience to enjoy scuba and free diving. They must also invest in underwater photography equipment. Success depends on the photographer’s artistry, viewing angles, and ideas.

Half above and half below view of Hon Yen islet

A garden of rocks in Hon Yen

The rocky island of Hon Yen lies in the Hon Yen Archipelago. It is part of Nhon Hoi Hamlet, An Hoa Village, Tuy An District in Phu Yen Province. Hon Yen was recognized as a National Relic Site in 2018. It is famous for its shallow coral reef, which lies near the shore. As beautiful as a blooming rock garden, the reef surfaces at the start and in the middle of each lunar month, dotted with starfish that shimmer under the sea.

Tourists must tiptoe barefoot on the rocks to avoid stepping on and damaging the fragile coral. On days when the tide rises to three to five meters, the reef is a great snorkeling venue.   Photographers like this site because they can be even more artistic, capturing shots that capture both the scenes above and below the sea’s surface. Along with the shallow coral reef habitat, rich stony corals can be found in deeper waters east of Hon Yen. This area is quite dark, with colder water than on the island’s western side, and constant currents. Divers must take care and never dive alone. They should also avoid jellyfish and touching any floating slime, which may cause rashes, stings, and skin irritation.

BENEATH THE WATERS OF LY SON A split above/below view of waves breaking over the coral reef off Cu Lao Xanh Island at sunset

Diving adventures in the Cu Lao Xanh coral reef

Cu Lao Xanh (Nhon Cau island commune) is a must when visiting Binh Dinh, a land described in a well-known folk song:

“Binh Dinh has Vong Phu Mountain,

Thi Nai Pond, and Van Phi Island.

Come to Binh Dinh with me, my dear,

And eat pumpkin in coconut-water soup.”

Cu Lao Xanh lies in the island commune of Nhon Cau. It is situated between two of Central Vietnam’s largest bays: Quy Nhon Bay (Quy Nhon City, Binh Dinh Province) and Xuan Dai Bay (Song Cau Township, Phu Yen Province).  Quy Nhon Bay hosts about 152 ha of coral reefs, comprised of mainly hard corals, near the shore and islands. The magnificent coral reefs of Cu Lao Xanh remain wild at depths of 4m to 10m, harboring great potential for deep-sea diving tours.

Exploring the clear water and sand formed by the remains of ancient coral at Dao Be - Ly Son

Some female visitors like to dress up as mermaids in colorful diving costumes. They pose with the coral and schools for fish for beautiful photos.

Beneath the waters of Ly Son

Vietnam’s diving sites contain many diverse and beautiful natural wonders. Ly Son Marine Reserve stands out thanks to To Vo underwater archway, located off Be Island in An Binh island commune. The archway is made of sedimentary rock located at a depth of about 13m to 17m. It formed due to a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. This arch is 20m long and 5m high at its tallest point. Coral clings to the stone. Professional divers can pose by top of the arch, which resembles the gateway to an underwater palace or a wondrous world in the heart of the ocean. As they swim around the arch visitors can marvel at the fish and coral in the sapphire-blue water. Tourists who haven’t learned to dive can snorkel or go down with an air tank, accompanied by a professional diver, to depths of 8m to 10m, just enough to see the archway. Be Island also boasts white sand deposits created from long-dead coral, with fissures formed by ancient volcanic activity. This forms natural sand walkways that extend under the sea.

Du khách lặn xuyên qua vòm đá ở độ sâu

The “silver seas” and “underwater forests” of Central Vietnam are natural treasures. The most beautiful season for diving in the Central Region has arrived, so make plans for delightful undersea adventures this summer.