Heaven on earth

It’s still possible to find untouched beauty along Vietnam’s southern coast.

By Duong Nguyen on July 15,2015 07:59 AM

Heaven on earth

I must say, first up, that either this place is quite hard to find or I’m a bit of an idiot. I was told about it by a travelling companion a few days beforehand, and the guesthouse I was staying at gave me some crystal-clear instructions on how to get there. But I still managed to get lost. Once I found it, though, Bai Xep, a mysterious and unknown stretch of beach some 10 km from the centre of Quy Nhon town in Binh Dinh province, soothed my soul.

After a short ride along Highway 1 by taxi, there was a sign saying ‘Welcome to Bai Xep’. I told the driver to stop, paid and bade him farewell, and headed down a small lane. But there was no village well, which my instructions said there should be, nor any happy smiling people. There was just dead quiet. I darted back to the highway, but the taxi was long gone. With no other choice, I trudged along the side of the highway under the scorching sun only to receive ‘what-on-earth-are-you-doing-here’ stares from nearly every truck driver that passed by. After 15 minutes but what felt like a century I arrived at the tucked-away village with the well.

The moment I stepped into my guesthouse I knew immediately that this was the place I had been longing for. I could hardly believe it was real. Everything looked like it came straight out of a dream.

Heaven on earth

The sandy white beach was so close that the sound of breaking waves calmed me down immediately. I spent the whole afternoon taking a long stroll along the deserted beach gazing at the sea washing against jagged-rock outcrops. The warm breeze teased my hair and the scent of the ocean filled the air. It’s just pure luck that rampant tourism hasn’t come here yet. As far as I walked I saw not another footprint.

As the afternoon light began to fade I joined a dozen local kids for a cool dip in the turquoise sea. I couldn’t help but envy them, as they’ve grown up amid such absolutely stunning scenery. Jumping in fully clothed, howling with laughter, they looked naturally content and happy.

Evening came, and I satiated my hunger with a lovely dinner of spicy tuna and mango salad at a garden bistro. After experiencing endless winters in northern Europe, the fact that I could dine in an open air environment under a brilliant silver moon felt like paradise. Across the bay, the bamboo prawn traps were beautifully lit up and the seductive waves silently kissed the shore. Life just doesn’t get better than this!

The next day I got up early and was blown away by the most spectacular sunrise I’ve seen in years. The first orange light streaked through the palm trees and in a moment the sun rose from the pink horizon, basking the whole sandy beach in its gorgeous shining colour. Tell me city-dwellers, when was the last time you saw such a breathtaking dawn?

Later I wandered around the zigzag laneways of the village. With no cars, this community of a few hundred finishing families was extremely peaceful. As is so often the case outside of big cities in Vietnam, the hard working local people have retained their friendly and cheerful charm. They don’t mind starting a conversation with a stranger and are willing to offer assistance if you ask.

It was a delight to visit the early morning market and sample local dishes like banh xeo and banh hoi at about a tenth of the price I’d normally pay for breakfast in Hanoi. Not far from the market, the fishing beach is the perfect spot for taking photos of everyday life as fisherman busily launched their boats and coracles (little round boats) dotted the shoreline.

The following night I was lucky to join the traditional annual festival in the village. Once a year the whole community is brightened up with a procession, ceremonial praying at the temple, and three nights of Tuong - once a popular traditional performance art. Hundreds of villagers turned out on the crowded beach, eagerly watching the troupe playing in their colourful, sparkling costumes.

I spent the next several days enjoying the same routine: watching the sunrise, taking a morning stroll and swim, picking up seashells, having breakfast in the village, reading books in a hammock under the shade of a palm tree, downing a late lunch of salad and ice cream in the company of Skippy the cat, writing on my blog, gazing at the sea, taking an afternoon walk followed by a long dip in the ocean, then a candlelit dinner with some beer and moon watching. Could I ever tire of this? The truth is there isn’t a whole lot to do around Bai Xep, except for the beach. But it was exactly what I was looking for, and I can honestly say it was perfect.

The sun rises and sets, then comes the moon. The whole world keeps changing, but my wish is that Bai Xep will remain an untouched hideaway. Forever!

Handy tips

Bai Xep is located in Ghenh Rang, Quy Nhon. It’s a pleasant motorbike ride from the town centre. Both taxis and local buses are convenient, but make sure you get off at the right stop or you might find yourself wandering along the highway, which is something to be avoided!

On the same stretch of beach are various accommodation options. The Avani Resort (formerly known as Life Resort) is brilliant if you’d like to treat yourself to luxury and style. Their spa’s also good for a pampering session.

Haven and Life’s a Beach are two small, friendly guesthouses across from each other and are the perfect place to unwind, kick back, and relax at a reasonable cost. Both have open-air bars located right on the beach with stunning views.

Next door, Big Tree Backpacker and Bistro offers clean and comfortable single dorm beds for travellers on a shoestring budget. The relaxed bistro at Big Tree has fantastic local and Western food, which is great if you suddenly miss some comfort food like fish and chips or a burger.

You can always enjoy a delicious meal in nearby Quy Nhon and don’t forget to try the fresh seafood at 141 Xuan Dieu restaurant. In fact, the whole street of Xuan Dieu is known for fantastic seafood and you can literally pick any place to eat in.

Once you’ve fully relaxed on the beach, other little adventures could include a visit to Eo Gio, a lovely cove on the east side of the city, snorkelling on Hon Kho Island, and riding for an hour or two in a local fisherman’s coracle or learning how to paddle one yourself. An hour’s drive away, Ghenh Da Dia is another natural beauty spot that’s been compared to Ireland’s Giant Causeway. But that’s for another article.


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