Đại Lãnh Beach is one of those wonderful places along Vietnam’s coast where an eastward spur of the Annamite Mountain Range plunges to the ocean. It’s at these points that the most dramatic coastal scenery in the country is found. Đại Lãnh Beach is a pretty stretch of sand framed by lush mountains. There’s good swimming at one end of the beach, and a busy fishing village with some good-value guesthouses at the other end. However, this beach is seldom visited because of its proximity to the busy Highway 1; Vietnam’s main transport artery. But, the construction of a new tunnel looks set to change Đại Lãnh’s fortunes in the near future.
ĐẠI LÃNH BEACH
Every time I visit Đại Lãnh I’m surprised at how beautiful it is: in the blue shadow of looming mountains, two kilometres of white sand stretches between two spectacular mountain passes. Sheltering tightly at the north end of the beach is the fishing village; its fleet of wooden boats bobbing in the surf. It sounds idyllic, and – from a distance – it is. But, development has never taken off here (although, judging by the giant concrete shell in the middle of the beach, an attempt was once made). There are two good reasons why Đại Lãnh Beach is not on most people’s itinerary: Highway 1 and the Reunification Express. The former is the busiest road in Vietnam, and the latter is the only north-south railway in the country. Both of these transport lines run parallel to each other, just metres from the beach. Between the two of them, there’s quite a bit of noise.
In the past, Đại Lãnh used to be a popular destination for Vietnamese tourists and French colonials, who called the area Cap Varella. However, the advent of motorbikes, cars, coaches and freight trucks plying up and down Highway 1 has seen its reputation diminish. In my opinion, while the occasional blaring klaxon is an unwanted distraction from the sea and sand, it’s not really all that bad. Besides, there are plenty of other beaches – like Mirissa in Sri Lanka – that are also in close proximity to main roads, but remain very popular with tourists. As for the railway, I personally find the rattling carriages of the former Trans-Indochinois a romantic accompaniment to this tropical beach, but others find the howling of the horn during the night a disturbance. However, in a few years’ time, none of this should be a problem.
In 2012, work began on a 13km tunnel under the mountains, which will bypass Đại Lãnh Beach altogether. The project will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and when it’s completed (which won’t be until 2016) nearly all traffic on Highway 1 will take the tunnel, allowing Đại Lãnh to return to the peaceful destination it once was. Similar construction projects in Vietnam have already transformed areas that were previously blighted by heavy traffic, into vehicle-free tourist attractions: the Hải Vân Pass in Central Vietnam is a good example of this. I predict big things for Đại Lãnh in the future, but for now it still makes a good stop for a night or two if you’re travelling on Highway 1 and want to stop at a beach with more local character than Nha Trang or Mũi Né, but still with lots of charm and beauty.
To get the most out of a visit to Đại Lãnh, spend a night or two at one of the good budget guesthouses located at the north end of the beach, but spend most of your time swimming, relaxing and eating at the south end of the beach. This is because, although the fishing village at the north end is good to look at from your guesthouse balcony, it’s still a working beach, which means it’s dirty and smelly. The south end, however, is a perfect sandy beach with turquoise waters. There are a couple of restaurants and cafes at the south end that serve decent food and have loungers on the sand, but all the accommodation is at the north end. Personally, I love spending a night at Đại Lãnh Beach as a layover on my way to or from somewhere else: its location is superb and, because it’s a fishing village, it has more ‘grit’ and reality than the other well-known beaches along Vietnam’s coast. I can easily put up with the noise from the road and railway for a night on a genuine Vietnamese working beach.
Đại Lãnh is 85km north of Nha Trang, and 40km south of Tuy Hòa. The two kilometre beach is squeezed between two mountain passes on Highway 1: Cổ Mã Pass to the south, and Cả Pass to the north. The latter is one of the most scenic sections of Highway 1, rivaling the more famous Hải Vân Pass in Central Vietnam. Both of these will eventually be bypassed by a tunnel, but for now you can’t miss Đại Lãnh Beach if you’re travelling on Highway 1.
Because Đại Lãnh Beach is on the main highway, all tourist buses that ply north to south between Hanoi and Saigon have to pass through it. Most bus companies will gladly drop you off here; you just have to tell the driver when you board the bus. A rest stop for a night or two at Đại Lãnh makes sense if, for example, you’re travelling north from Nha Trang to Quy Nhơn, and want to break the journey. For onward travel, most of the big bus companies have offices at the north end of beach, or it’s easy enough just to stand on Highway 1 and hail one of the passing buses going in your direction.
Đại Lãnh Beach is a great stopover if you’re on a motorbike trip. The scenic passes either side of Đại Lãnh make for a great ride, and there are lots of other excellent beaches to be found in the surrounding area (more to come about these beaches on Vietnam Coracle in the next few weeks).
There are a handful of standard Vietnamese nhà nghỉ (guesthouses) on both sides of Highway 1, at the north end of the beach. These are all pretty good value, especially for budget travellers: clean rooms, wifi, and ocean views for $10-15 a night. There are two guesthouses that I particularly like:
Khách Sạn Bình Liệu (Binh Lieu Hotel); 200-300,000VNĐ ($10-15); Tel 058 3949138: Annoyingly, all the guesthouses and hotels in Đại Lãnh have the same address: ‘Highway 1, Đại Lãnh’. However, it’s a small place, and you can easily find Bình Liệu Hotel by looking out for the sign in red letters on the ocean side on Highway 1. This is the kind of cheap, local accommodation that I love. A four-storey townhouse building that wouldn’t look out of place in the Saigon suburbs, this hotel has clean, well-equipped rooms, with a modest mini-bar, wifi and good views over the fishing village and beach. Make sure you ask for a sea view room as the ‘highway view’ rooms aren’t quite as nice.
Nhà Nghỉ Thái Tuấn (Thai Tuan Guesthouse); 150-200,000VNĐ ($7-10): This three-storey concrete building stands all on its own at the northern-most end of town, on the opposite side of the road to the beach. It’s a little run-down, and the sign is so worn that it’s indecipherable. However, it should still be easy to find as it’s the last ‘tall’ building before crossing a small bridge at the beginning of the Cả Pass. This place is a bit cheaper and less ‘luxurious’ than Bình Liệu Hotel. Rooms are still very clean and the sea views are good. Because this guesthouse is not on the beach side of the road, it can be noisy, but that’s just part of being in Đại Lãnh.
Eat & Drink:
Generally, my dining experience in Đại Lãnh has been bad to terrible. Quality is mediocre, service gruff, and overcharging common. However, most of my meals here have been solo and on a budget. I’m sure that if you have two or more people there are good meals to be found. Seafood must be fresh as there’s a big fishing fleet just metres away: I’m told that the squid hotpot (lẩu mực) is popular here, but I’m yet to try it.
You’ll see lots of places to eat along the roadside at the north end of the beach. Some of these are local eateries, but many of them are restaurants that cater to large coach groups or truck drivers that make pit stops at Đại Lãnh for lunch or dinner. I can’t recommend any in particular, although Nhà Hàng Đại Lãnh (Dai Lanh Restaurant) at south end of the beach is more popular than most, and it’s right next to the beach.
All areas along the coast of Vietnam, where the mountains meet the sea, have very changeable weather. Last time I was in Đại Lãnh it was bright and sunny one day, and grey and rainy the next. Having visited more than a dozen times at different months of the year, I’m yet to notice any pattern. ‘Unpredictable’ is the best way to describe the weather here.
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