Quy Nhon has emerged on the global tourism map as a "perfect place for a relaxed getaway," but its attractions are far more diverse than typical getaway destinations.
A good time to visit this relatively quiet town in the south central coast is January to August, when the weather is warm (most of the time).
In fact, next week can be a very good time to be in Quy Nhon as more than 10,000 runners, including foreigners, will be in town for the VnExpress Marathon, which returns here after a year of suspension due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ghenh Ranh-Tien Sa tourism area, around three kilometers from downtown Quy Nhon, was the choice of King Bao Dai for a private holiday retreat.
It hosts the Hoang Hau (Queen) Beach, which gets its name after the visit of Queen Nam Phuong, wife of Bao Dai, Vietnam's last king.
A unique, distinct feature of the beach is the presence of hundreds of round stones like a giant bird’s eggs. The beach was previously known as the Da Trung (stone egg) Beach.
Apart from its special beauty, Ghenh Rang is where literature lovers can pay homage to Han Mac Tu, a poet who tragically died young. His grave is on Thi Nhan Hill, a few minutes’ walk from Hoang Hau Beach.
Covering an area of only one square kilometer, Bai Xep is said to be the oldest fishing village in town. Locals swaying along the coast in coracles, navigating between boats, is a common sight.
Located by Quy Hoa Beach in Ghenh Rang Ward, around 13 kilometers from downtown Quy Nhon, the village is home to around 100 people, all of whom earn their living fishing and/or raising shrimp and certain varieties of fish in near-shore areas.
In 2016, the village became famous after it was listed by American news site Business Insider as "one of 16 hidden gems" of Asia.
In recent years, some locals have started homestay businesses and coffee shops in response to the tourism boom. One of the ways to relax here is to rent a bamboo rod and go fishing.
On the Phuong Mai Peninsula, around 10 kilometers from downtown Quy Nhon is another old fishing village on Nhon Hai Island. Locals head out to sea at around 3-4 p.m. and return just as the sun comes out the next morning.
The quiet village is undergoing a rapid transformation as more tourists visit it, prompting some entrepreneurs to develop tourism projects, open restaurants as well as accommodation facilities there.
An increasing number of foreigners are choosing the island for longer stays.
A memorable experience in Nhon Hai would be to walk around an ancient Champa citadel that only rises to the sea surface during low tide or the dry season. It is one of two important and sacred monuments for Nhon Hai villagers, the other one being the famous Huong Mai pagoda.
Just three minutes from Nhon Hai fishing village by canoe is Kho (Dry) Islet, the most populous islet in Quy Nhon. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a place to stay overnight here.
A range of typical beach activities can be enjoyed here, including diving to watch corals, playing adventure beach games and snacking on seafood.
A boat or jet ski can be rented for VND300,000-500,000 ($13-22) per group or VND50,000 per person for a ride.
A small sandbank in the middle of Kho Islet is a sea turtle conservation area. At night one can see sea turtles laying eggs here.
Many foreign tourists have said in social media posts that watching the sun come up on the Thi Nai Lagoon is a great experience; and then, witness daily life proceed at a leisurely pace with small boats coming ashore with their catch.
The large saltwater lagoon, covering over 5,000 hectares to the southeast of Binh Dinh, is home to waterlogged house clusters and fish and shrimp ponds.
On the lagoon is a small mountain on which stands a temple dedicated to the whale god. Locals built the Thay Boi (Fortuneteller) temple to worship the whale, a sacred benefactor for Vietnamese fishermen. Beached whales are given elaborate burials. Locals pray to the Whale God for luck, good weather, bountiful catch and protection at sea.
Around 30 kilometers from downtown Quy Nhon is the Trung Luong camping site, which has emerged as a popular eco-tourism destination in recent years.
The picnic area is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Those not carrying a tent can rent one for about VND300,000 per night for two people.
At night, visitors can sit around a campfire and enjoy BBQ party under the starry sky.
Ky Co, referred to by many people as the "Maldives of Vietnam," is a hot destination in Quy Nhon.
Renting a motorbike is the most convenient way to travel to Ky Co. The service is available online or at hotels. Some people also choose to book a Ky Co tour which normally includes a boat service to take you to the island, a meal, and diving, all priced at about VND350,000 - 400,000 ($15-17) per person.
The most special feature of Ky Co is its two colored water with the distinct shades of green and blue, making for an arresting sight.
From Ky Co Beach, a canoe can be rented to explore the coral at Bai Dua, Kho or Sao islets. Many visitors opt for the special diving service that allows one to walk on the sea bed as fish and other marine creatures swim around.
Visitors can also rent a jet ski, a boat to go fishing, or follow local fishermen out to sea.
Of course, one can just laze on the beach, watching the turquoise waters stretch until the horizon and listen to the calming sound of sea waves.
The town now has a five-star resort, four four-star hotels and other resorts with prices ranging from VND1.5 million to VND5 million ($66-220) per night for two people.
Among luxury resorts with private beaches are: the Seagate Resort, Ky Co Quy Nhon Resort, Crown Retreat Quy Nhon, Avani Quy Nhon Resort and FLC Quy Nhon Resort. Prices start from VND2 million a night.
Some hotels like Huong Viet and Vietnam Taste on Xuan Dieu Street and Salah on Le Lai Street are offering discounts of 20-30 percent for runners attending this year's VnExpress Marathon.
Banh xeo tom nhay (jumping shrimp pancake) – is a highly recommended dish for Quy Nhon visitors.
Unlike rice pancakes in the southern region, the pancake here is just the size of a fist. It is very thin and has prawns, bean sprouts and onions on top. It is served with a tray of greens herbs, rice paper, and sweet fish sauce. The combination of the shrimp cake with sprouts, cucumber and star fruit is a treat for the palate.
The best jumping shrimp pancake is to be found at Gia Vy 2 Restaurant on Dien Hong Street or Mrs. Nam’s shop near My Cang Bridge on Tuy Phuoc District, according to locals.
Banh hoi is similar to rice vermicelli found elsewhere in the country. It is made from rice flour into very fine strands. The dish is most delicious when it is soft and covered with a thin layer of oil. It is served hot with a sprinkle of chives on top.
Bun cha ca noodle soup is another dish that comes highly recommended in Quy Nhon. The main ingredient in the dish is the fish cake, which is made with various kinds of fish like barracuda and mackerel. The broth is cooked with fish bones, usually those of mackerel and flagfish, because of their sweetness. The soup should not have a fishy flavor. Many stalls serve the dish with chili sauce.
A famous fish cake noodle shop on Nguyen Hue Street is the place to try this dish while in Quy Nhon.
Banh beo (water fern cake) is also a colorful snack with green spring onions, golden fried onions, pounded peanuts and red shredded shrimp. Banh beo is best had piping hot. Ms. Xe’s stall on Tran Nguyen Dan Street is the go to establishment to savor this treat.
Tre (fermented pork skin), made with pig ear, head and belly, is considered a local specialty. It is seasoned with sesame, powered rice, galangal, chili, young guava leaf and garlic. The meat is fermented naturally for two or three days until the spices are absorbed, giving it a unique flavor. The chef uses chopsticks to mix the meat pieces before it is laid on the plate.
This dish can be tried at several stalls on National Highway 1A. It can also be bought and taken home as gifts.
The fastest way to get to Quy Nhon from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is by air. Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air, Jetstar, and Bamboo Airways all have daily direct flights to Quy Nhon.
From Phu Cat airport, visitors can either hop on a shuttle bus or grab a cab to the town's center around 35 km (21 miles) away.
Quy Nhon is around 650 km from HCMC, from where visitors have the other options of taking a bus or a train.
It takes around 12 hours by bus and the fare starts at around VND220,000 ($9.49) per person. An overnight bus arriving in the morning would be an ideal bus ride.
The train journey from HCMC takes approximately 13 hours and fares range from VND252,000 ($11) for a seat to VND442,000 ($19) for a sleeper berth.
Story by Hoang Phong