|Raglai rhythm: The Raglai ethnic minority dance during a festival, the first of its kind, held in Ninh Thuan Province's Bac Ai District last month. — VNS Photos Xuan Hiep
Get up early, head to the beach, walk along the coast, swim, watch the sunrise and talk to the locals.
That was how I started my day during a recent trip to a central province that is not yet widely known, especially by foreign visitors to Viet Nam.
There is much to see and do in this undeveloped region, famous for not only pristine tropical beaches but also hospitality. I spent four days at a resort in Ninh Thuan, where I got to learn about the province's history and explore magnificent natural attractions.
I also participated in an ethnic festival, the first of its kind, held in the mountainous Bac Ai District – a revolutionary base during the country's wars for independence. Ninh Thuan has 11 heroes from the people's armed forces, three of whom are from Bac Ai. The festival inspired me to learn about the Raglai ethnic people, who made great contributions to the country's struggle for independence.
|Hidden treasure: The Cham Tower, built by the Cham in the 13th century, is a popular destination in Ninh Thuan Province.
Located near the more heavily touristed areas of Khanh Hoa, Lam Dong and Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan has great tourism potential. It has cultural and historical sites, 105km of coastline, mountain ranges that reach the sea and magnificent bays such as Vinh Hy, Ninh Chu, Binh Tien and Ca Na.
But despite all these advantages, it has yet to become a tourist mecca, which was good for me as the gorgeous beaches remained tranquil.
Viet Nam's 2,000km coastline contains many magnificent beaches, but Ninh Thuan is different in that many of them are very tranquil, especially Ninh Chu Bay, which has been voted one of the nine most beautiful beaches in the country. Several three- to four-star resorts with affordable daily rates of US$30-70 line the coast. I stayed at the three-star Long Thuan resort, which is close to the beach.
Several kilometres from the city centre, the beach is clean with quiet waves all year round, making it a perfect place for swimming and other sport activities.
After relaxing on the white sand, a trip to the Thap Cham (Cham Towers) offers some cultural enlightenment. Built in the 13th century by the Cham, Po Klong Garai Tower is still a place for Cham celebrations.
The tower is located on a hill, so you get a wonderful view of the city as well as rural areas. The peaceful atmosphere and the wind cool you down from the heat of the tropical sunny day.
One of the most interesting attractions nearby is Vinh Hy Bay, a small fishing village around 30km north of Ninh Chu Bay, where you can take a boat trip to islands and deserted beaches.
|Juicy fruits: Ninh Thuan is home to around 200 varieties of grapes farmed over 2,500 hectares.
The boat's glass bottom lets you see the coral reefs in the bay. Be sure to book the boat tour in advance for the best deal.
The city has little nightlife, so most tourists gather at April 16 Park downtown to experience the quiet lifestyle of local people. In the park, residents often eat street food, drink beer and chat with their friends.
The best way to get around the city is to rent a motorbike, although foreign tourists should exercise caution when doing so. After visiting the mountains, I made my way to Bau Truc pottery village in Phuoc Dan Town in Ninh Phuoc District, 10km south of the city. At the village, visitors can see Cham artisans make pottery with rudimentary tools and buy some to take home. On the way back, I stopped at My Nghiep and Chung My, brocade weaving villages of the Cham people.
As for the province's food specialities, grapes come readily to mind. Ninh Thuan is home to around 200 varieties of grapes and has 2,500 hectares of grapes grown mostly in Ninh Phuoc and Ninh Hai districts and Phan Rang-Thap Cham City.
Locals told me to visit Ba Moi grape garden, owned by a man of the same name. There, I learned about the production process and enjoyed homemade wine, juice and fresh fruit, all at reasonable prices.
Though Ninh Thuan is small and undeveloped, there was much to do and see. It was a wonderful place to discover. Tourists should not expect the highest standard of service and understand that English is not commonly spoken. But what draws visitors back again and again is the hospitality of the local people. So visit now before it becomes more and more developed and "discovered".
Located about 350km from HCM City, the area can be easily reached by train or bus. Both take approximately six hours. An air-conditioned train with a soft seat or bed takes you to Thap Cham railway station and costs about VND300,000 (US$14) one way.
The main city is Phan Rang-Thap Cham and the population is about 600,000. Most people belong to the Kinh majority group, but there are also members of Cham, Raglai, Chinese, K'ho, Churu and Nung minorities. — VNS