Hidden in plain sight

It’s refreshing to find there are still some lovely, untouched spots to be found in Vietnam, of which Phu Yen is one.

By Pham Ha. Photos: Le Minh Ngoc on January 22,2016 05:37 PM

Hidden in plain sight

Tuy An Rocky Plate Reef

Tuy Hoa on the south-central coast in Phu Yen province has become an emerging beach destination for Vietnamese holidaymakers and offers a taste of authentic Vietnam to foreign travellers.

It first entered the imagination of Vietnamese people in a big way after the success of the movie ‘Dear Brother’, directed by Victor Vu and based on the famous novel ‘Toi thay hoa vang tren co xanh’ (I saw yellow flowers on green grass) by Nguyen Nhat Anh. The movie is particularly evocative, with beautiful, peaceful scenery, rice fields, mountains, wild beaches, and islands, and also featured childhood games from the 1970s that my generation used to play, which brought back some nice memories.

I arrived at Tuy Hoa and was immediately intrigued by the accent and vocabulary of our local tour guide, Hang. He rightly promised that our group would experience indigenous culture, rich history, friendly people, stunning landscapes, and local cuisine. We were full of anticipation as we set out on our new adventure to explore one of the truly last tourism frontiers in my own country.

Dawn in Mon Beach

The dawn at Mon Beach

Remote location, easy access

Travellers, both foreigners and Vietnamese, know Nha Trang and Quy Nhon but few know much about Tuy Hoa and Phu Yen. Lying between Nha Trang and Quy Nhon, the coastal province of Phu Yen is generally thought of as somewhere you pass through to get elsewhere.

The provincial capital of Tuy Hoa is 120 km north of Nha Trang and has an airport with direct flights to and from HCMC and Hanoi as well as good rail and bus connections.

Some 12 km south of Tuy Hoa, Long Thuy Beach is a long expanse of white sand with clear water that is popular among Vietnamese yet still to be discovered by international tourists.

There is also Xuan Dai Bay to the north and Vung Ro to the south and Tuy Hoa city right in the middle. Vung Ro has numerous islands in the East Sea that can be explored and has links to the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail during the US War. Weapons were secretly shipped via the sea route in support of revolutionary soldiers fighting the Americans, and relics such as Vung Ro remind visitors of the struggle that took place to gain Vietnam’s independence.

To see

Tuy Hoa is rich in history and culture and in three days you can discover some of its highlights, such as temples, churches, lagoons, beaches, and bays.

On the first day we were introduced to the city and the signature Cham Towers in Nhan Mountain, north of Tuy Hoa. O Loan Lagoon, Tam Giang Reservoir, Mang Lang Church and Ghenh Da Dia (Rocky Plate Reef) counted among the other highlights. We were delighted by rivers running through the countryside, sleepy villages, and the deep yellow of the rice fields with a backdrop of mountains.

Xuan Hai village

Xuan Hai village

We visited just before Christmas and the charming 17th century Mang Lang Church, which is often compared to the famous church in Macau, was decorated for the festive season. The very first dictionary of Alexandre de Rhodes, who developed the Vietnamese text we write today, is kept at the old A Mang Tomb area near the church.

The geography of Phu Yen province is varied and diverse, with the Truong Son Mountains (Annamite Range) overlooking the narrow strip of plain tucked between the ocean and the foothills. The province is known as one of south-central Vietnam’s rice baskets thanks to reservoirs built by French, which are still used today.

The coastline has a unique feature, in Ghenh Da Dia (Rocky Plate Reef), an example of a type of reef only found elsewhere in Ireland and Jeju Island in South Korea, and is the largest of its type according to our tour guide Hang. Forty kilometres from Tuy Hoa and parallel to the coast, it emerges from the immense ocean like a gigantic honeycomb of stones and is widely acknowledged as one of the natural wonders of central Vietnam. The giant ‘beeswax’ plate reef is made up of thousands of basalt columns, some 50 metres wide and 200 metres high.

We visited all of the locations linked with the film ‘Dear Brother’, including a school and a periodic market - a traditional market where vendors only sell one type of animal on any given day of the month, so on the 16th, for example, only chickens are sold.

We relished the panoramic view of sandy Phu Thuong Beach and wondered why there was no tourism development there. So make sure you visit before it changes! We spent some time just relaxing on the beautiful beach before returning to the Viet Star Resort.

The second day we ventured to the south of Tuy Hoa, where the virtually traffic-free road runs parallel to an empty white sand beach, reminding me of Nha Trang’s ‘strip’, Tran Phu Boulevard, 20 years ago.

Vung Ro and Cap Mui Dien (Mui Dien Lighthouse) are the highlights of this area and the lighthouse is one of the oldest in Vietnam and offers panoramic views of the ocean, the reef and the beach from the top. Nature lovers will enjoy the opportunity to camp on Bai Mon Beach at the foot of Mui Dien and spend a little time returning to nature and relaxing to the sound of waves lapping on the shore.

Vung Ro Bay is scenic too, with views towards the imposing Truong Son Mountains. Here we paid homage to the memory of sailors who died here and learned a little about historic ships. The tour guide told us that some tourism projects are planned, which will make the region more popular with travellers and enhance the local economy.

During our short time here we had plenty of sun, sand, and seafood. The food was particularly delicious and was to the taste of everybody in the group, whether they were from Hanoi or HCMC. The tuna and oysters were particular favourites.

Hidden in plain sight

Mui Dien

Who should go?

Adventurers and intrepid travellers, explorers, photographers, families and anyone, really, who wants to discover an exotic and largely undiscovered place to enjoy some solitude. Phu Yen is also an ideal destination for company team building trips and I certainly plan to bring my staff here next summer.

When is a good time?

The climate in the region is one of the best and most constant in the country, with little rain and a balmy average temperature of 28C all year round. Given its close proximity the weather is, unsurprisingly, similar to Nha Trang. It’s a year-round destination, but the best time to experience it is from June to September when you can expect dry weather and blue skies.

Accommodation

There is currently a limited choice of accommodation but what is there is some of the best around. The range includes:

Viet Star Resort and Spa (www.vietstarresort.com) : A five-star Vietnamese standard resort located just 15 minutes from the city on a hilltop close to National Highway No. 1 and the railway station.

Cendeluxe Hotel (www.cendeluxehotel.com): A five-star property with a central location and great views at very affordable prices.

Ho Tram Hideaway (www.baitramestate.com): Definitely one for leisure travellers with its own private beach but in a remote location.

Kaya Hotel (www.kayahotel.com.vn): A four-star city hotel with easy access to the beach.

Yasaka Huong Sen (www.yasakahuongsen.com): A four-star hotel in the city centre, good for conventions and meetings with a nice restaurant.

 

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