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The beach towns of Vietnam's Pacific Ocean coastline have come a long way since the post-war guesthouses, huts and bars. In fact, the 2,000+ mile strip that extends from the north from Hue, past Danang, Hoi An and Nha Trang down to the up-market Phan Thiet and the Cambodian border and diving area of Ha Tien, is now an epicenter of world class resorts, scuba diving and spas as people from around Asia and the world discover Vietnam's appeal as a relatively non-crowded beach vacation destination.

Prices are traditionally low, with a favorable exchange rate and, although you may be sharing the white sand with a combination of expatriates, Saigon's upper classes and backpackers, there is plenty to do and see. Or alternatively you can opt to do absolutely nothing and just relax. The climate can be hot and humid but the Vietnamese coastline is an attractive option during most times of the year, except perhaps rainy season which runs from mid-September to mid-December. In general, when visiting the central coast beaches the best season is May to October, but in the south December to May is preferable. Christmas and New Year is an especially busy period when hotel prices rapidly inflate but at other times of the year, there are certainly bargains to be found. And yes, you can still find traditional guesthouses and low-key accommodation if that is what you after.

Probably the most famed beach area is located on the central coast between Danang and Hoi Ann, largely referred to as China Beach -- where U.S. troops were based during an unfortunate period in Vietnam's history. The main part of China Beach is centered around the Non Nuoc beach area stretching for a few miles north to My Khe Beach near Marble Mountains. Although the area offers long expanses of white sandy beaches and plentiful accommodation, there are many other beaches with a lot more to offer, especially as you head further south.

Mui Ne Beach is about 20-minutes by bus from Phan Thiet and about two hours from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It's an up-and-coming resort area known for its spectacular red and white sand dunes, world-class wind and kite surfing, and a wide selection of reasonably priced hotels. It also claims to have the lowest rainfall in the country -- another plus. The simply designed yet tasteful rooms at the four-star Seahorse Resort (www.seahorseresortvn.com/en/index.php) start from $65 per night for a double garden view. The four-star Blue Ocean Resort (www.blueoceanresort.com) has standard rooms with breakfast daily from$50 per night or $65 for sea view bungalows. The bungalows at the three-star Bamboo Village Resort (www.bamboovillageresortvn.com) have thatched roofs and romantic mosquito-netted beds and are priced from $88 per night with a discount of up to 20% during the months of May, June, September and October. Little Mui Ne Cottages (www.littlemuine.com) is currently closed for renovation until July 15, 2007, but when it re-opens, it will offer the following packages: The "Make it Easy" package, valid from November 1, 2007 to April 30, 2008 is $35 per person per night based on double occupancy, and includes accommodation in a traditional garden view bungalow, daily breakfast and dinner, free Internet access, a one-hour body massage, and use of bicycles. The "City Escape" package is $89 per person per night or $165 for single occupancy from July 15 to October 31, 2007 or $95 per person 95 ($175 single occupancy) from November 1, 2007 to April 30, 2008. It includes two nights' accommodations in an ocean view bungalow, daily breakfast, Internet and bicycle usage, round-trip transportation by air-conditioned bus between Ho Chi Minh City or Nha Trang and the resort, two one-hour body massages and your choice of either a jeep tour to the famous white sand dunes (about 18 miles from the resort), a one-hour fishing trip or a visit to the Phan Thiet market. For tighter travel budgets, guesthouses in Mui Ne generally range from approximately $5 to $20 per night but may only have fan cooling rather than air-conditioning.

Imagine a white sand surrounded island with miles of palm trees and hammocks strung between them, traditional beach huts and secluded hotels and you have Phu Quoc Island, situated off the coast of Ha Tien in the Gulf of Thailand. This is Vietnam's largest island and is accessible by 45-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City or by boat from Ha Tien. It offers pleasure-seekers several mountains and forests to explore plus some of the best and most remote beaches in the country. Its short rainy season only lasts one month -- October. Bai Truong on the west coast is considered the most beautiful of the island's beaches with spectacular sunset views over the water. Bai Thom in the north and Bai Khem in the south are also popular. The petite Beach Club Hotel (www.beachclubvietnam.com) only has nine thatched roof rooms in beachfront basic bungalows at a cost of between $17 and $20 per night including breakfast. The Bo Eco Resort (www.boresort.com) on Ong Lang Beach has beach view bungalows set in lush gardens from $25 per night or beachfront ones from $35 including breakfast. The island's only five-star resort, the Long Beach Ancient Village Resort and Spa (www.chic-resorts.com) is located on Bai Truong beach. Book more than 60 days in advance and receive a 25% discount on published rates. Pay for two nights or more and receive one free additional night or pay for five nights or more and receive two additional nights. Valid for stays between Sundays until Thursdays with a $15 per person breakfast charge for complimentary nights for stays until September 30, 2007. Rooms start at approximately $120 per night including breakfast and round-trip airport transfer.

Close to Ha Tien and the Cambodian border are the beach areas of Hon Chong and Hon Trem, visually stunning locations with attractions including the Thach Dong Grotto, Tien Cave with opening to the sea and the beach, the Chong Stone and the Hang Pagoda. By boat, you can visit the 16 Hai Tac island or you could just choose to sit on the golden white sands and take in the vistas of stunning water bound rock formations rising from the ocean just off the coastline. Accommodation is quite scant in this area if you are after resorts, so you may prefer to just wing it and stay in smaller guesthouses located in and around Ha Tien.

Getting to the south coast of Vietnam is relatively easy, either by bus from Ho Chi Minh City or flights from Hanoi and elsewhere in Vietnam. Many hotels will also offer transportation to their property as part of a package price or as an added extra. There are several daily flights to Phu Quoc Island on Vietnam Airlines (tel. 415/677-8909; www.vietnamairlines.com) from Ho Chi Minh City and for travel to Ha Tien, you can fly into Rach Gai.

United (tel. 800/538-2929; www.united.com) flies to Ho Chi Minh City from Los Angeles via Hong Kong daily but fares are quite high ranging from around $1,700 to $2,200 including taxes depending on the season. Delta (tel. 800/241-4141; www.delta.com) has round-trip flights in July 2007 via Seoul from just under $1400 including taxes. Alternatively you can choose to fly a combination of Asian carriers including Cathay Pacific (tel. 800/233-2742; www.cathaypacific.com/cpa/en_US/homepage) with slightly lower prices ranging from $1,100 to $1,700 including taxes during the months of June, July and August, 2007. It may be helpful to note that Ho Chi Minh's airport code in SGN -- a legacy of its former name -- Saigon.

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