With over 3000km of coastline, Vietnam makes an apt setting for different types of sea tourism activities. Cruises in Halong Bay are already well established, while water sports in Nha Trang and beach holidays in Phu Quoc are proving popular. Swimming tourism is yet to make headway in Vietnam, though not due to a lack of potential, argues Graham Buckley, Operations Director at the Vietnam Swimming & Lifesaving Company. We talk to Graham to see if swimming tourism has a future in Vietnam.
Can you briefly explain what swimming tours entail?
Swimming tours can vary in length from day trips to week long tours. They often involve two swims per day in open water, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Some are also complimented with walks – it all depends on the location and what it has to offer. You can find a good example of a week-long SwimTrek itinerary here, which takes place on the Emerald Coast of Sardinia. Note that there is a big emphasis on the natural beauty of the area.
What kind of landscapes are most suitable for swimming tourism?
There’s no hard and fast rule here – but it should ideally be interesting both above and below the water. If you’re looking at tours of a few days or more, then it should also be varied. A nice long sandy beach is great for relaxing on all day – but if you’re swimming for a few hours, you ideally want a bit of variety and a sense of journey.
Landscapes suitable for swimming tourism should ideally be interesting both above and below the water (Photo credit: Bien Nguyen)
What makes Vietnam a suitable destination for swimming tourism?
Vietnam has an extensive, diverse and, in parts, unique coastline. The stunning and iconic coastline that Vietnam has to offer is a huge asset. This is complimented by rich biodiversity, ensuring below the water is just as interesting as above it. Vietnam has a lot going for it as a destination for swimming tourism, but it isn’t without its flaws.
Vietnam has a lot going for it as a destination for swimming tourism, but it isn’t without its flaws.
Pollution would definitely be a problem in some of Vietnam’s prettiest spots, including Halong Bay. There would also be climate concerns. Much of the coastline is battered by typhoons at different times over the year and all tours would need to take the seasons into account. All these issues can be overcome, however, as they have been in Europe.
Where would be the best areas for this kind of tourism?
The muddy rivers and lakes of Vietnam aren’t suitable, so the focus would need to be on the coastline. Iconic Halong Bay is the obvious place to start, with thousands of islands and many more beaches. But polluted waters and cruise ships would be an issue, so it is important to find a more secluded part of Halong Bay (or Bai Tu Long Bay/Lan Ha Bay) for the activity.
The muddy rivers and lakes of Vietnam aren’t suitable, so the focus would need to be on the coastline.
Outside of Halong Bay, there are the coastal cities of Danang, Tuy Hoa, Nha Trang and Mui Ne, all of which would be worth investigating. The rocky coastline of the Hai Van Pass, just north of Danang, and the various bays between Tuy Hoa City and Nha Trang, would likely make attractive destinations.
The rocky coastline of the Hai Van Pass, just north of Danang, and the various bays between Tuy Hoa City and Nha Trang, would likely make attractive destinations. (Photo credit: Bien Nguyen)
What kind of problems might there be with setting up swimming tours in Vietnam?
- Conflict with other activity and developments is always a challenge. Jet skis, tour boats, and other water sports don’t generally make for a pleasant swimming experience – or most importantly, a safe one. If there’s a lot else going on in an area, it’s a challenge to make a successful swimming trip work. Vietnam’s fishing industry is still of vital importance, and this might also cause conflict in some parts of the country.
- Water quality and clarity. People want to enjoy the natural environment, and swimming allows you to literally immerse yourself in that environment. Nobody wants to swim in water that is polluted and there is mounting concern over the state of the sea around Vietnam.
- Obtaining government permission might also be problematic. This would probably depend on the province.
Other than swimming tours, are there other areas of swimming tourism that might have potential?
Vietnam has huge potential for swim races, demonstrated by Ironman’s successful triathlon in Danang. With an increasing number of international connections to Vietnam’s coastal cities as well as fast-developing infrastructure, Vietnam has a lot going for it when it comes to these kinds of events that attract thousands of people. An additional challenge for any mass participation water event here, though, would be finding suitable people to provide adequate safety cover. Over the next 10 years I imagine that there will be many more swim races taking place across the country.
Graham is the Operations Director at the Vietnam Swimming & Lifesaving Company, and former Operations Manager at SwimTrek, the world’s leading swimming holiday tour operator. Graham is also a keen open water swimmer, lifeguard trainer, and the founder of Hue Help. Hue Help operates a “Swimming for Safety” program, an open water swimming training program for disadvantaged kids in the flood-prone province Thue Thien Hue.
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