|Time to recharge: It's ideal to rest and relax at Quy Nhon's peaceful, romantic beach. — Photo Tin Nguyen
Visitors can find endless hours of relaxation, explore small sections of history and gorge on fresh seafood in Quy Nhon, a peaceful city on the central coast. Bui Quynh Hoa reports.
A cup of hot coffee on a winter's day is a small luxury that most people can afford, but it's more satisfying to enjoy Quy Nhon style: sitting on the sand, chatting and relaxing under a night sky while the waves lap against the shore.
I had a chance to experience just that, and luckily, on the day I arrived in the port city, the weather was fine despite the time of year. It was a full moon and the sky twinkled with brilliant stars. It was amazing to taste the flavour of the coffee, feel the breeze and listen to the fishing vessels swaying in a rhythmic repose out at sea.
That was my first impression of Quy Nhon, a small and peaceful city in the central province of Binh Dinh.
Land of sun and wind
The next morning, we crossed the Thi Nai Bridge, the longest sea-crossing bridge in Viet Nam, connecting Quy Nhon to the Phuong Mai Peninsula, I was eager to explore the city, which offers visitors plenty of picturesque landscapes, and has recently been ranked third among nine places to get off the tourist trail in Southeast Asia by UK travel magazine Rough Guide.
|By the seashore: More and more people come to visit Quy Nhon beach, which is blessed with untouched sand, a long coastline, gentle slopes, crystal clear water and pure air. — VNA/VNS Photo Duc Tam
My first stop was the Phuong Mai Sand Dune which is next to Phuong Mai Peninsula's Nhon Ly Beach, about 20km from the city. Here we had only an hour to play and take pictures on the 100-metre-high sand dune. Witnessing how the body of the dune undulated and changed with the strong winds blowing from the beach was a great sight.
Our next stop was Hon Kho (Dry Islet), where we had a truly memorable experience.
We got to the islet by boat and there was no one there but us on the sandy beaches, yellow sunlight, clear blue water, rocky cliffs and coral reefs.
The reefs lie very close to the shore where the water was only one or two metres deep. Some of the people in our groups could not swim, but it was fine because they wore life jackets and goggles to contemplate the wonderful marine world.
|Step by step: Twin 30m-high Buddha statues in Ngoc Hoa Monastery, one of the city's cultural relics that attracts lots of visitors.
"Hon Kho is also a turtle conservation centre. If you have a chance to stay the night, you may come across turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs," said Nguyen Thanh Long, our taxi driver and tour guide.
Duong Thi Kim Oanh from Ha Noi said: "I think Hon Kho is a must-try where you can swim, scuba dive, sunbathe or simply enjoy this quiet corner of nature. Let the local seafood blow you away."
"It's so good to see the creatures and coral under the ocean," she added.
Leaving the islet, we visited Trung Luong Beach in Phu Cat District, about 25km from the city. Hon Kho was amazing but Trung Luong Beach was much more impressive. With untouched sand, a long coastline, gentle slopes, crystal water, pure air and a good climate (the average annual temperature is about 25oC), it is ideal for rest and relaxation.
It was so peaceful and romantic taking a stroll along the long beach, leaving our footprints on the sand while white clouds lazily flew across the high blue sky.
The beach here also offered a wide range of fresh seafood that we could enjoy anytime of day.
Trung Luong Beach is a great destination for something different and all in all a fantastic day out.
Our next stop was Eo Gio (Windy Cliff) where the wind blows strongly off the beach.
Looking down from the high mountains, the Wind Waist was both charming and stunning. Mountains meet the sea, and the waves smash into rocky cliffs as two forces of nature collide.
Along the foot of the mountain, there is a large rocky stretch with multiple shapes and colours, and many small islets stand out of the water.
"People call it Eo Gio because it looks like a saddle," said Nguyen Hong Thai, a tour guide in Quy Nhon.
"We are very happy to welcome more people to our city, especially in recent years," he said.
|Ancient art: Binh Dinh was the capital of the Champa Kingdom from the 10th to the 16th century, and the proof of this golden age is in the towers that still stand tall, with domes covered with moss. Photo xinchaovietnam.org
Nguyen Thanh Liem, a former tour guide and now owner of a shop that sells Binh Dinh's specialties, agreed with Thai.
"People know about Quy Nhon's amazing landscapes, which are ranked third among the top nine places to get off the tourist trail in Southeast Asia, and also its culture, abundant seafood and cheap dining and accommodation.
"Quy Nhon is also the land of martial arts and famous poets such as Han Mac Tu, Xuan Dieu and Che Lan Vien.
"I'm very proud of my city. I'll continue to promote the beauty of our city to visitors who come to my shop," Liem added.
Quy Nhon is also famous for other sites including Queen Beach where Queen Nam Phuong (the last queen of the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945) used to bathe; Han Mac Tu's Tomb, a talented and ill-fated poet of the 20th century who was well-known for modern romantic poetry; Ngoc Hoa Monastery, with its 30m-high twin Buddha statues; and Ham Ho Tourist Site, which is located in the middle of the Kut River and famous for its majestic and charming nature.
|Chicken of the sea: Fishing is the main industry in Quy Nhon, making it a great source of exceptional seafood. The coastal city is a highly recommended place for seafood lovers. — VNS Photos Bui Quynh Hoa
Visiting Quy Nhon, we could not ignore King Quang Trung's museum.
Located in Tay Son District, 45km from the city, the temple is dedicated to the king, and was built on the foundations of his former home with public contributions in 1958. Today, a tamarind tree and a well still remain that date back to his childhood.
Leaving the museum we headed to Dan Te Troi (Altar of Heaven and Earth) on the highest peak of An Son Mountain.
The site has three levels with a circular top floor called Vien Dan (Worshipping Heaven), a square floor called Phuong Dan (Worshipping Earth) and a square bottom floor (Worshipping Man).
Binh Dinh was also the capital of the Champa Kingdom from the 10th to the 16th century, and the proof of this golden age is in the towers that still stand firm, with domes covered with moss.
There are fourteen Cham towers and monuments in varying stages of decay around the province.
Thap Doi (Twin Towers) is the most easily accessible of Quy Nhon's Cham ruins, and date back to the 11th century. The two towers are unique, as Cham towers were usually built groups of odd numbers on a hilltop, instead of in a town.
Further away, Banh It Tower (Silver Tower) is also a good place to visit.
Built in the late 11th and the early 12th century in Tuy Phuoc District on top of a hill, the complex has four towers that look like a glutinous three-cornered rice cake. Each tower has its own distinct architecture, with statues of Shiva God on top of all four.
"In terms of art among the remaining Cham towers in Viet Nam, Banh It Tower has a varied architecture with high artistic value," said Nguyen Ngoc Tien from Binh Dinh Province's Historical Relics Management Board. "We are very proud of it."
Along with its charming natural scenery and ancient cultural and historical relics, I also had a chance to taste many of Quy Nhon's specialties.
There were many things to try but I loved the king crab, sea snails, banh hoi long heo (boiled pork innards served with angel-hair fresh noodle, aromatic herbs and sauce in Quy Nhon style) and banh xeo (crepe). Tre (a kind of fermented pork roll) and Bau Da wine are also a must-try, especially for men.
Products of coconut oil are also a special gift from Binh Dinh for women to moisture and revitalise their hair and skin.
Thanks to Quy Nhon's attractions, growing numbers are being drawn to the city.
According to Binh Dinh Province's Department of Tourism, about 2.2 million visitors visited the province in the first nine months of last year, a 24 per cent increase as compared to the same period in 2014. This generated tourism income of more than VND832 billion (about US$37 million).
"It's said that 2015 was an eventful year for Binh Dinh Province," said Nguyen Pham Trung Kien, vice head of the Binh Dinh Tourism Association.
"The rapidly increasing numbers of people visiting the province is proof of tourism development here. We are on the right track to exploit our strengths," Kien said.
Quy Nhon has a lot to offer, but above all the people are very simple and kindhearted, friendly and passionate, and are the main reason I fell in love with this charming city.
Take a trip some day and I think you'll be as enchanted by this untouched city as I was. — VNS