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Central city sheds small town image

Update: August, 09/2009 - 00:00

Central city sheds small town image

Green scene: Quy Nhon city's public green spaces along the beach are favourite spots for residents to play sports, practice tai chi and sunbathe. — VNS Photos Pham Hoang Nam

Just the beginning: The Thi Nai Bridge links the city to Phuong Mai Peninsula, where the Nhon Hoi Economic Zone has jump-started growth.

(09-08-2009)

Quy Nhon is no longer the sleepy town it used to be. The central city has become a top tourist attraction and is poised to become one of the region’s major economic players. Pham Hoang Nam reports.

A few years ago, a friend urged me to take a holiday in Quy Nhon.

"Just come and enjoy the peaceful life and fresh air," he said. At the time, I thought the city was not very appealing, so I hesitated to go. But after my visit last month, my opinion of the place has radically changed.

Quy Nhon, in recent years, has begun appearing on destination lists at travel agencies, particularly for travellers seeking a holiday spot beyond the well-trodden tourism towns of Mui Ne or Nha Trang.

The change that helped spur the city’s newfound prosperity began in 1998, when city officials decided to build a road along the coast via Ghenh Rang Hill which circles the Cu Mong Pass, making the city more accessible to southern provinces.

Having decided to take my friend’s advice, we began our trip from Phu Yen Province, travelling along a long coastal road with beautiful seaside views.

We could see Quy Nhon from a distance, and the lights of the city at night gave us the impression that it was far more developed than we had previously thought.

Stopping on Ghenh Rang Hill, we arrived at the site of the Quy Hoa Hospital, which treated leprosy patients 70 years ago.

At the time, when leprosy was considered highly contagious, the patients had to live a highly isolated life and could not venture out into the community.

Han Mac Tu, one of the most talented Vietnamese poets of the 1940s, was treated for leprosy for four years, dying at the hospital at the age of 28.

Today, the so-called "hell on Earth" has changed remarkably; the hospital still treats a variety of illnesses, including leprosy, which is now curable.

On the hospital grounds is a statue garden that honours internationally-reknown physicians, and a nearby beach caters to tourists.

Not far away from Quy Hoa Hospital is the enclosed Ghenh Rang tourism area, which charges an entrance fee of VND8,000.

Inside is Han Mac Tu’s tomb, which was moved here in 1957, 17 years after he died, thanks to his close friend, the well-known writer Quach Tan.

When we arrived, we met Dzu Kha, a fan of the talented but ill-fated poet, who has lived most of his life nearby and often gives readings of Han’s famous poems.

Kha, his face sunburnt and leathery from sitting outdoors all day, said his only wish was to maintain Han Mac Tu’s legacy and "make his poems come alive".

Ancient history: Twin towers, built during the Champa period, stand at the gate to Quy Nhon City.

Personal space: The beach where Queen Nam Phuong, wife of the former King Bao Dai, frolicked in seclusion.

By carving Han’s poems on wood souvenirs to sell to tourists or organising poetry festivals, Kha plays a small but significant role in the area’s cultural life.

A dozen metres away from the poet’s tomb is a beautiful beach with many huge stones.

Before 1945, the beach was a favourite spot of Queen Nam Phuong, the wife of the last Vietnamese feudal king Bao Dai. Whenever she visited, the beach was hers alone and no one was allowed to enter.

After we left Ghenh Rang, we walked into the city centre via a wide street resembling the famous Tran Phu Boulevard in Nha Trang. It runs along the sea for nearly 10km until it reaches the Thi Nai Bridge, which links the city with the Phuong Mai Peninsula.

The city, which seems to embrace the sea, has many green spaces.

Every morning and afternoon, local residents swim or walk in parks along the coast, or in summer fly kites on a former helicopter pad that has been transformed into a giant green square downtown.

As I watched the peaceful scene, I wondered how big cities like HCM City and Ha Noi could create some public spaces like Quy Nhon.

In Viet Nam’s southern- central region, visitors can see architectural evidence of the Kingdom of Champa, which occupied the area from the second century AD to the early 1300s.

A twin tower, located on Tran Hung Dao Street, 3km from downtown, is unique in that it is the only one not built on a hill, the most common spot for Champa buildings.

Quy Nhon, which got its name about 400 years ago, prospered under the Tay Son Dynasty when the Thi Nai Port was built. In 1898, King Thanh Thai by imperial decree declared the area to be the heart of Binh Dinh Province.

At the time, the city was one of the busiest commercial towns in the central provinces, and hosted many foreign traders.

New economic centre

Today, the city, which is 1,065km from Ha Noi, 690km from HCM City and 176km from Pleiku, has an excellent transportation system, with well-developed seaports, railways and airports.

While National Highways 1A and 1D link the city with the north and the south, National Highway No 19 connects Central Highlands provinces and northeastern Cambodia. National Highway No 14 leads to southern Laos and to central Thailand.

Today, Quy Nhon is one of three major tourism and commercial centres in the southern-central region, along with the coastal cities of Da Nang and Nha Trang.

Its landscape is diverse, and includes forests, alluvial plains, lakes, rivers and an island. The Phuong Mai Peninsula covers 100 sq.km, one-fifth the size of Singapore, while Thi Nai Lagoon is 50 sq.km.

Tourism facilities in the city have improved greatly, with two luxury resorts, including the five-star Life Resort on Ghenh Rang Hill and the Hoang Anh Gia Lai in the city centre.

Three four-star hotels, the Sai Gon–Quy Nhon, Hai Au (Seagull) and Hoang Yen (Serin), are also popular with travellers.

The city’s most important advantage is its deep seaport, which can welcome 30,000-tonne ships. Next year, five million tonnes of goods are expected to be handled at the port, with the number tripling in 10 years.

In late 2006, the longest bridge in Viet Nam, 2.5km in length, opened, linking Quy Nhon and the Phuong Mai Peninsula via the Thi Nai Lagoon.

The bridge will help kickstart growth in the 12,000ha Nhon Hoi Economic Zone.

"Thi Nai Bridge has awakened the potential of the Phuong Mai Peninsula," Vu Hoang Ha, the provincial Party Secretary and former chairman of Binh Dinh People’s Committee, said.

The peninsula is well known for wind power, while the lagoon is a good place for deep sea port development.

"The Nhon Hoi Economic Zone on the peninsula will be the key to boosting the regional economy," he added.

The economic zone will include industrial and processing zones for agriculture, marine and forestry processing; an oil refinery; factories for electronics and apparel; a deep-sea port; storage facilities; a marine industry; tourism sites; and urban and residential areas.

Total investment for the zone is expected to reach US$100 million next year.

To attract local and foreign investors, the province has issued many incentive policies, with highly favourable conditions.

To date, 20 projects with a total investment of nearly US$1billion have been registered with the economic zone.

The Sai Gon Invest Group (SGI), a leading industrial and processing zone developer, which owns 20 zones in the country, has poured VND1 trillion ($55 million) to build infrastructure on an area of 630ha.

"With our long experience in industrial and processing zone development, we believe that with huge economic potential and determination from provincial leaders, the Nhon Hoi Economic Zone will begin to develop soon," said Dang Nhut, vice chairman of the SGI management board, during an interview.

Under the national plan to boost the economy in the central region by 2020, the Prime Minister has asked authorities to hasten investment and construction in key economic zones, including Nhon Hoi.

The Nhon Hoi zone is expected to be connected with neighbouring zones, including Chan May in Thua Thien–Hue Province, Chu Lai in Quang Nam, Dung Quat in Quang Ngai and Van Phong in Khanh Hoa.

The zone, which is also near the border economic zones of Duc Co and Bo Y in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum, will play a major role in elevating the central region to the status of its more illustrious northern and southern counterparts.

Blessed with an abundance of natural resources, Quy Nhon is a city on the move. I had assumed that the sleepy town of the past was not a tourism destination, but I had been pleasantly proven wrong. And I have my friend to thank. — VNS

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