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Off the beaten tourist track, Quy Nhon is ready to be discovered

Are you looking for a peaceful, non-touristy beach free of pesky vendors, and a decent, affordable hotel near the sea?

Up-and-coming: Beach umbrellas in Quy Nhon City, which is turning into a popular tourist destination.
Up-and-coming: Beach umbrellas in Quy Nhon City, which is turning into a popular tourist destination.

Quy Nhon City, once a mainstay of the fishing industry of central Binh Dinh Province, should be on your bucket list if you visit or live in Viet Nam.

Though it retains its fishing prowess, as well as its martial arts traditions, the city has changed a great deal in recent years.

Located far from the country’s major urban centres – 650km from HCM City, 300km from Da Nang City and 1,100km from the capital Ha Noi – Quy Nhon is less developed than other coastal destinations popular with foreigners and locals alike, such as Nha Trang or Da Nang.

With a 4 km-long beach and a spacious seafront street with patches of green, the beach provides an ideal place for walking, sunbathing or throwing a small party with friends.

The beach is especially quiet if you are an early bird and want to take a swim or jog on the sand.

The Two Towers: Hung Thanh Tower is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Quy Nhon. — Photo

“Quy Nhon is less touristy than Nha Trang and people here are also less money-minded,” James Looker, a young Canadian tourist who quit his job to travel around the world for six months, said.

At the beach, James and his friends used baskets and thin plastic cups to make sand structures, while an ice bucket full of cans of beer stood nearby.

“I’m going to stay in the city for a while and see if I can find a part-time job here,” he said.

More restaurants and accommodation services are appearing in the area to serve the growing number of tourists. And, a few mini-bars serving drinks at reasonable prices have popped up along An Duong Vuong Street along the seafront.

With only a few hotels labelled three stars or above, most of the accommodations are inexpensive and perfect for backpackers.

“The city government is encouraging the development of restaurant and accommodation services, ranging from cheap to expensive, to meet the demands of all kinds of tourists,” said an official of the provincial planning and investment department, who declined to be named.

Besides the beach, the city, once an important commercial centre under the Nguyen dynasty, offers tourists historic structures and performances of Vietnamese marital arts and classic drama.

Laid back: A resort in Quy Nhon City. — File Photo

During my visit, a motorbike taxi driver and a car taxi driver both introduced me to the Twin Tower, or Hung Thanh Tower, located three kilometres from the heart of the city in Dong Da Ward.

The edifice has two parallel towers, one 20m and the other 18m, built from the 11th to the 13th century with many intricate patterns on their sides.

The Long Khanh and Son Long pagodas are two other historic sites that deserve a visit.

At Long Son, visitors will have a chance to see a Buddhist statue made of stone, weighing 1.5 tonnes, and 3.1m high.

Quy Nhon is also known as the cradle of traditional martial arts in Viet Nam, and hosts the country’s biggest biennial traditional martial art festival, which was held during my recent stay.

I was stunned to see hundreds of students, martial artists, actors, singers and musicians performing on a stage set up on Nguyen Tat Thanh Street.

The festival, which has been held since 2006, honours King Quang Trung, who taught martial arts to farmers so they could fight as soldiers to dispel northern invaders and unite the country.

The city plans to make use of its traditions to add to its tourism value, with tours to the Quang Trung Museum in Tay Son District and to schools of martial arts throughout the province.

Classic drama like hat bai choi, which is popular among local residents, is another attraction for tourists interested in Vietnamese theatre culture.

For dinner, the central market, which sells inexpensive clothing and small items, is a good place to stop. It has a handful of eateries, many of them serving fresh seafood.

“Most of my customers are local people, and there are also international tourists, but the number is very modest,” said Tran Minh Vu, who helps his parents sell beef noodles, baked cuttlefish and egg-filled bread at their food stand in the market.

With the city poised to be the next big thing, the time to visit Quy Nhon is now, while it is inexpensive and blessedly uncrowded.