Like Acapulco, Bali and many other famous beach destinations, it was adrenaline junkies looking for the next big wave who ‘discovered’ Ninh Thuan’s coastline. With dramatic cliffs dropping into the sparkling blue ocean and a dry climate matching Greece’s Aegean region, the Vietnamese province is increasingly becoming a favourite spot for kitesurfers from around the world.
Kitesurfing is becoming a mainstream sport. With nearly two million enthusiasts worldwide it will be included in the 2024 Summer Olympics for the first time. Jumping on a surfboard and being pulled by a giant kite has captivated some of the world’s most influential people such as Richard Branson, Larry Page and President Barack Obama. In 2016, Forbes Magazine claimed kitesurfing was the new golf for business executives.
It was only 10 years ago when a few of these adventurous people drove motorbikes north from Mui Ne up the coast and past the city of Phan Rang. Passing goats on a narrow one-lane road winding through small hamlets and fishing villages, they made their way to the ocean where the wind was roaring. At first it was a group of South Koreans who began coming every year, spending three months in the area. A Vietnamese kitesurfer from Mui Ne also began bringing his friends to his secret spots and soon the word spread. However, back in those days the drive took all day and no beach facilities existed for the kiters, meaning only the very adventurous made the trip.
Progress Towards Becoming a Sports Tourism Destination
Image source: traveltimes.vn
By 2014, things began to change. New roads and bridges were completed. A coastal road was widened and extended making the spots easily accessible from the nearby city of Phan Rang. The early explorers to the area began developing simple shelters and offering local food and drinks at their favourite spots. A beach club catering to kiters opened. Each year their numbers doubled and by 2016, word was spreading well beyond Vietnam. That year in February, The Kiteboard Tour Asia held Vietnam’s largest professional kitesurfing event in Ninh Thuan. In the summer, one of the leading kitesurfing equipment manufacturers launched an important new product line at Ninh Chu Bay. Marketing photos taken of that week’s activities still circulate through the sport’s media. Kitesurfing publications noticed too. That year articles appeared in two issues of Kite World Magazine and Ninh Thuan was featured in TheKiteboarder Magazine’s top international destinations publication—a first for Vietnam. Remarkably, Ninh Thuan and the capital city of Phan Rang may be better known in international kitesurfing circles than among foreigners who live in Vietnam.
Image source: phanrangkitecenter.com
It is the area’s unique geography and climate that attract the kitesurfers. My Hoa lagoon, 20 km from Phan Rang, is a huge coral reef that keeps the shallow water butter smooth but with clean-breaking offshore waves. From beginners to world-class, the spot is perfect for all levels and all types of kitesurfers. Adjacent to Phan Rang is the eight kilometre crescent, Ninh Chu Bay. The beach is lined by three-star resorts where kiters can walk from their room and jump on their board.
The climate is also distinct. Never cold, the province receives the least amount of rain in Vietnam and the most sunny days. Winter storms that typically pass nearby generate strong northerly winds but very little rain. In the summer the southerly trade winds get supercharged by the arid land to the south. Not many coastal locations boast two distinct wind seasons that allow kiting for over 10 months of the year.
A few professional windsurfers train in Ninh Thuan during the winter and equipment rental and lessons are available. Also, the best surfing waves in Vietnam break five kilometres north of beautiful Vinh Hy Bay. A handful of adventurous surfers already ride them during the winter. Ninh Thuan also offers other activities. One of the largest coral reefs in the northern hemisphere lies just off the coast and it is starting to be explored by snorkellers and scuba divers. Back on dry land, the hills around the area are perfect for trekking and mountain biking.
Change is Imminent but Enjoy the Cool Surfer Vibe for Now
Growth in the area’s sport tourism continues doubling every year. The South Korean group just arrived for this season—their 10th year. They will be joined by groups from Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Hong Kong and thousands of individual kiters from countries all over the globe. Quite a few of these kiters now return every winter creating a closeness of community you don’t feel in most places. On a given day, upwards of 200 kites cross back and forth along My Hoa Lagoon.
Image source: phanrangkitecenter.com
The facilities have grown to match the demand. Four large kite schools have opened, each with a restaurant and rooms. Guesthouses and house rentals are popping up near the kite spots and locals who never may have seen a foreigner before are now developing businesses focused on them. Land that was thought nearly worthless five years ago is in demand as Ninh Thuan’s coastline is suddenly a hot commodity.
Just like Bali, Ninh Thuan will change. The Australian surfers in the early 1970s were adventurous, off-the-beaten-path explorers. Those days are already in Ninh Thuan’s rearview mirror. Transportation has improved to the point where travel from the airport or train station takes less than an hour. The wide roads and light traffic make renting a motorbike relatively safe. Hi-speed internet, ATMs, grocery stores, pizza, and soon a movie theatre, are available in town.
The same wind and sun the kitesurfers enjoy now make Ninh Thuan the centre of Vietnam’s renewable energy industry. Hundreds of foreign energy workers stay in the area and more projects are starting. Finally, traditional tourism is also growing. Several highrise resort projects are being constructed along Ninh Chu Bay, and hidden away 10 kilometres past My Hoa rests the most exclusive resort in Vietnam (where many celebrities have tried their hand at kitesurfing). Even at My Hoa lagoon, kiters can take a break and lie next to the swimming pool while eating some of the best lasagna in Vietnam and drinking a cold craft beer.
If you have ever wanted to experience a cool surf culture vibe or you just want to break up your normal routine, Ninh Thuan is at that perfect crossroads of being both adventurous and accessible.