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There are also a number of less-heralded beaches to track down, and even a few islands, but the region has ample historical significance too — this was once the domain of the kingdom of Champa, whose magnificent ruins still dot the coast. An Indianized trading empire, Champa was courted in its prime by seafaring merchants from around the globe, but became steadily marginalized from the tenth century onwards by the march south of the Vietnamese.
Discover the best of what this region has to offer, with our Southern Vietnam Travel Guide. Continue reading to find out more about Fleets of fishing boats jostle for space in the cramped ports and estuaries of the coastal towns, awaiting the turn of the tide, and fish and seafood drying along the road are a common sight.
The fertile soil also blesses the coastal plains with coconut palms, rice paddies, cashew orchards, sugar cane fields, vineyards and shrimp farms. One of the most commonly seen fruits here, especially around Phan Thiet, is the dragon fruit, which grows on plants with distinctive, octopus-like tentacles. Back on the mainland, the first place of note is Vung Tau, once a French seaside resort, and now a smart, oil-rich town with passable beaches — much better ones can be found further up the coast.
Other more secluded beaches that warrant an expedition further north include Doc Let, while Quy Nhon makes a useful halt above Nha Trang. Those who feel that a day sunbathing is a day wasted will prefer to rest up around Phan Rang, site of Po Klong Garai, the most impressive of the many tower complexes erected by the once-mighty Champa empire.
Vietnam is book-ended to the south by the admirably unspoilt Con Dao Archipelago, a confetti-like spray of sixteen emerald-green islands, cast adrift in the South China Sea some km south of Vung Tau. The sleepy nature of the archipelago belies some tumultuous history — under French occupation, Con Dao was home to the most feared prison in the country, and haunting remnants of that time are still visible. However, more come here to get away from such negative thoughts, and since regular flights began early this century, the archipelago has taken its first steps to welcoming tourists.