Vietnam Coracle http://vietnamcoracle.com Independent Travel Guides to Vietnam Sat, 08 Dec 2018 15:55:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Vu Linh Homestays, Thac Ba Lake http://vietnamcoracle.com/vu-linh-homestays-thac-ba-lake/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/vu-linh-homestays-thac-ba-lake/#comments Tue, 20 Nov 2018 14:54:45 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23639 Vu Linh is a rural commune on the eastern shores of Thac Ba Lake, where several excellent homestays offer atmospheric lodgings & access to the lake & local community.... Continue reading

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First published November 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

About 150km northwest of Hanoi, Vu Linh is a rural commune on the eastern shores of Thac Ba Lake, one of the largest artificially created lakes in Vietnam. Formed by the flooding of the Chảy River for hydroelectricity projects, Thac Ba Lake is roughly 80km long and 10km wide. Its clear, placid waters spread out in tentacles, peppered with hundreds of hilly, forested islets. The tiny, lakeside commune of Vu Linh has several excellent homestays, most of which consist of picturesque, palm-thatched wooden houses on stilts above the water and crop fields. The Vu Linh homestays are inexpensive, extremely atmospheric and friendly, offering lots of lake-related activities, such as boat trips and helping out with local agriculture. Staying at one of the Vu Linh homestays for a night or two is a very rewarding getaway from Hanoi, or as a way to break the journey between Hanoi and Ha Giang or Sapa. And, best of all, you can swim in Thac Ba Lake.

Vu Linh Homestays, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThe Vu Linh homestays are about 150km northwest of Hanoi, on the shores of Thac Ba Lake

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GUIDE: THAC BA LAKE HOME STAYS


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.


MAP:

Homestays in Thac Ba Lake

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Getting to Vu Linh, on the southeastern shores of Thac Ba Lake, isn’t particularly straightforward. Public transportation gets you near Vu Linh, but not actually to it. Trains on the Hanoi-Lao Cai line stop at Yen Bai, as do buses between Hanoi and Sapa, or between Hanoi and Ha Giang they stop at Tuyen Quang. Either way, you then need to get a taxi or motorbike-taxi to take you the rest of the way to Vu Linh. But it’s worth the effort, especially for those who prefer to leave the beaten path behind. However, by far the best and most convenient way to get to Vu Linh is with your own wheels, whether by motorbike or hired car and driver.

Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThac Ba Lake is huge, but Vu Linh, on the eastern shore, is quite difficult to get to on public transport

The lakeside road meanders along the shore, until small, makeshift signs start to appear for various homestays. Currently, there’s at least half a dozen good homestays in the Vu Linh area, which are spread over a patch of land between the lake road (Road 170) and the lake shore. I stayed at La Vie Vu Linh Homestay & Eco-lodge, but I also checked out Vu Linh Farmstay, Vu Linh Family-Homestay, and Vu Linh Homestay, all of which looked great. What’s more, several readers have written to me with positive experiences of them all.

View from Vu Linh homestays, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThere are several good homestays in Vu Linh on Thac Ba Lake: I stayed in La Vie


View from Vu Linh homestays, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamAlthough the weather was terrible during my visit, the lake views from my room were still impressive

Depending on the time of year, some of the homestays are set just back from the lake shore, while others are right on the water. During the rainy season (May-October), the water-level rises dramatically, flooding much of the area, so that even the inland homestays have direct access to the lake. Indeed, if the rains have been heavy, you may only be able to reach your homestay by boat or, as was the case when I visited La Vie Vu Linh, by a self-operated bamboo raft-ferry. This only serves to make the arrival at your homestay that much more dramatic, and gives the impression of straying way off the beaten path.

Taking the boat to Vu Linh homestays on Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamDepending on the season, sometimes homestays can only be reached by boat or by bamboo raft

And, in general, the Vu Linh homestays are off the beaten path. The lake road is chewed up in places, public transportation is slow and indirect, and there’s only a trickle of independent travellers who visit. However, the lake and homestays are well-known to expatriates in Hanoi and domestic travellers from the capital, and some of the homestays occasionally host large tour groups and school outings. When I visited, there were no other travellers at all, and everything felt very quiet, remote, and peaceful. But, I would imagine that the atmosphere might be quite different if there happened to be a school outing or tour group staying at the same time as your visit.

Boarding the boat on Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Ye Bai Province, VietnamMy family boarding the boat at La Vi Vu Linh Homestay


A rowing boat on Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Ye Bai Province, VietnamVu Linh is generally quite off the beaten path, but tour groups & school outings occasionally visit

All of the homestays have inexpensive dormitory accommodation. Usually on the first floor of a communal wooden longhouse, these dorms consist of mattresses laid out on the wooden floor under mosquito nets, partitioned from each other by curtains or drapes. The dormitories are fan-cooled, and there’s also a breeze off the lake coming through the open windows on warm nights (during the winter months it can get quite cold in Vu Linh). The dorms, which have shared bathrooms and showers, are comfortable, clean, cosy, and great value for money: prices range from 50,000-150,000vnd ($2-$6) per person, per night. Some of the homestays in Vu Linh also offer private or family rooms. These are larger, self-contained rooms with en-suite bathrooms. At La Vie, the private rooms are particularly atmospheric, with windows and terraces overlooking the water, rustic bathtubs, and mezzanine lofts. However, the prices are significantly higher ($30-$60 a night) and the level of comfort isn’t necessarily much better than the dorms. You’re paying for the privacy and the space, rather than any extra amenities or luxuries. But, it’s worth the extra cost, especially if you’re travelling as a family or a couple.

Guest room, Vu Linh homestays on Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamDormitory-style sleeping is very cheap & consists of mattresses on the floor under mosquito nets


Guest room, Vu Linh homestays on Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamMore expensive private rooms are available, with lake views, terraces & direct lake access

As with other homestays across Vietnam, meals are generally eaten ‘family’style’, as a group sitting on the floor of one of the communal houses. Food, which is a highlight of any homestay, is excellent, locally-sourced, and the cooks can usually cater to vegetarians, too. Meals must be ordered well in advance, because the cooks need to know how many ingredients to buy at the local market. Prices are generally between 100,000-200,000vnd ($4-$8) per person for dinner, and about half that for breakfast. Drinks, such as tea, coffee, and beer, can be purchased throughout the day. At La Vie, there’s a fabulous lakeside terrace bar serving a wide variety of beverages, from French red wine to gin and tonics, familiar cocktails to locally-produced grain alcohol.

La Vie Vu Linh Homestay, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThe terrace bar at La Vie Vu Linh Homestay overlooks the lake & has a good range of drinks

For many of the homestay families, life revolves around the lake and the land, and work changes according the seasons. Most homestays, whether by coincidence or design, are low-impact and fairly sustainable. But at La Vie they make a point of trying to promote sustainable tourism, preferably in a way that gives back to the local community and reinforces good practices in agriculture and fishing. A lot of this revolves around integrating the local Dzao ethnic minority. There are many ways to get involved, most of which are outlined on the La Vie website. All the homestays are warm, friendly, welcoming, and very hospitable. At La Vie, I felt there was occasionally just a hint of ‘performance’ to the hospitality: stories and anecdotes about the local area, people, history, and produce that had been rehearsed and staged numerous times before. But that didn’t make them any less interesting or engaging.

Rowing a boat on Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Ye Bai Province, VietnamLife for locals in Vu Linh revolves around the lake & agriculture: at some homestays you can get involved

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects about staying at the Vu Linh homestays is access to the lake. The swimming is wonderful: the entire lake is your infinity pool. When I stayed at La Vie, the weather was horrendous – it hardly stopped raining once, and the landscape was all grey: there was no visible line between the lake and the sky. But as soon as we arrived – I was travelling with my extended family, most of whom swim – we jumped off the terrace and into the lake. It was a gloomy, dark, and brooding dusk with black clouds hanging over the lake, thunder rumbling, lighting illuminating the forested islets, and torrential rain falling onto the black water. But the lake was warm and calm – it somehow felt safer and more sheltered to be out in the water, floating on one of the bamboo rafts, than on land. Looking back at the homestay, with the lights of the terrace barely shining through the rain and enveloping night, it looked as though Vu Linh were an ark drifting through the storm, while everything else around it flooded and sank. But, just 10 minutes later, I was warm and dry under the thatched roof of the terrace, shooting back corn liquor and eating mounds of rice and local delicacies before going to sleep on my mattress under a mosquito net, listening to the rain falling outside.

Swimming in Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThac Ba Lake is serene & clean: it’s perfect for swimming (even during a storm)


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like these homestays and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Panhou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang http://vietnamcoracle.com/panhou-village-ecolodge-ha-giang/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/panhou-village-ecolodge-ha-giang/#respond Thu, 18 Oct 2018 12:27:12 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27265 Deep within the folds of steep mountains & plunging valleys, Panhou Village Ecolodge is set in the middle of a remote & seldom-visited part of Ha Giang, Vietnam’s northernmost province.... Continue reading

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First published October 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Deep within the folds of steep mountains and plunging valleys, Panhou Village Ecolodge is set in the middle of a remote and seldom-visited part of Ha Giang, Vietnam’s northernmost province. A cluster of bamboo, brick-and-thatch structures constructed on a lush patch of land by a clear-flowing river, Panhou Village Ecolodge is a boutiquey blend of local ethnic minority architecture and a few modern comforts. In recent years, Ha Giang has become famous for the extraordinary landscapes of the Extreme North Loop, which lies to the east of the Lo (Blue) River, a major waterway that bisects the province. But the territory west of the Lo River is far less trodden, yet it offers equally beguiling countryside. Panhou Village Ecolodge is an ideal base from which to explore this scenic region. The hiking and biking are excellent, and the Ecolodge is a cosy place to call home for a few days in the green embrace of Vietnam’s northern highlands. [Average rates are $40-$50. To check availability & make a reservation for Panhou Ecolodge please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamDeep in the mountains of remote Ha Giang Province, Panhou Ecolodge is a cosy & unexpected hideaway

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REVIEW: PAN HOU ECOLODGE


Address: Thong Nguyen Hamlet, Hoang Su Phi District, Ha Giang Province, Vietnam [MAP]

Average Rates: $40-$50 | Website: www.panhou-village.com


MAP:

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Located on a small, paved lane, about 20km west of road DT177, Panhou Village Ecolodge is accessed via a narrow, wooden bridge, suspended above a rocky river. Even when you’re on road DT177, you’re already off the beaten path, so by the time you reach the Ecolodge, you’re way off the grid. Panhou is a few kilimetres north of Thong Nguyen hamlet, which isn’t much more than a cluster of concrete houses at a rural crossroads. The nearest town of any size is Hoang Su Phi, 25km to the north. And Ha Giang, the provincial capital, is a 3-hour drive northeast of the Ecolodge. What’s more, many of the local roads are regularly blocked due to landslides, such is the mountainous nature of the surrounding terrain. In short, Panhou Village Ecolodge is remote.

The bridge to Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Village sits on an island in a stream: a wooden bridge leads across the water to the ecolodge

With this isolation comes spellbinding landscape. For most Vietnamese, the name Hoang Su Phi, the district in which Panhou is located, conjures romantic images of a wild, mist-shrouded mountainscape, where forests are punctured by waterfalls, and rice terraces grace the valleys. And this romanticized image is, well, pretty much accurate. It’s a majestic part of Vietnam; a region with genuine grandeur. And yet, there’s still very little tourist infrastructure here, which is one of the reasons Panhou Ecolodge is so special and unique. It was established specifically for travellers who wanted to experience this part of Vietnam, especially on trekking holidays. Personally, I think of Panhou as a place to treat myself in the middle of a long motorbike road trip, specifically the Borders & Back-Roads route, between Sapa and Ha Giang.

Guest room at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Ecolodge makes a great stop for travellers on the back-roads route between Sapa & Ha Giang

Unsurprisingly, given its remote location, getting to Panhou Ecolodge requires a long journey. You can get here independently by motorbike (or a very challenging bicycle ride) or hired private vehicle. The nearest transport hub is Ha Giang city, but from there, local buses will generally only get you as close as the town of Hoang Su Phi. Or, if you book in advance, the Ecolodge can arrange transportation for you from Hanoi or Sapa, at an extra cost. Either way, it’s a day’s journey, perhaps more if road and weather conditions are bad.

Restaurant & fireplace at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Village is very remote, but the lodge is cosy & comfortable, including this restaurant & fireplace

The Ecolodge is nestled on a patch of flat land between the riverside and the hills behind. It’s a small complex that resembles a traditional hamlet. The grounds are extremely lush: tropical plants, trees, and flowers grow profusely all around the property – you can almost see the foliage growing as you walk through the gardens. In amongst this jungle are dotted several thatched structures, connected by meandering stone pathways. The gardens and buildings are very well kept and cared for by a staff that includes local people from ethnic minority groups. Twenty three guest rooms, including doubles and triples, are tastefully but minimally furnished. Wooden desks, bamboo chairs and curtain rails, bedside lamps, crisp white sheets, and tiled en-suite shower and toilet are enough to make the rooms comfortable and cosy. There’s a ceiling fan, but no air-conditioning. Windows open onto the lovely gardens and feature mosquito netting so that you can leave them open at night for the breeze without letting the bugs in – a simple feature, but one that most accommodations in Vietnam lack.

Garden at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamThe gardens at Panhou are incredibly lush – tropical foliage grows all over the property

As the name suggests, Panhou Ecolodge is ostensibly an environmentally friendly property. Solar panels heat the water, local materials are used for building, local people are employed, and local ingredients – many of which are grown on the property – are used in the cooking. I always find it difficult to judge, but on the surface at least this eco-lodge does appear to be low-impact and sustainable.

Garden at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Ecolodge appears to be relatively low-impact & eco-friendly, including the use of solar power

Breakfast, including excellent bread and home-made jams, is included in the room price. Lunch and dinner are set menus consisting of good Vietnamese highland dishes. There are vegetarian options, too. All meals are a flat rate of $13 per person. If you have your own transport, you can go a few kilometres down the road to Thong Nguyen hamlet for a meal at a quán cơm (rice eatery), but otherwise the only option is to eat at the Ecolodge. The restaurant and bar are (somewhat unnecessarily) housed in separate structures close to one another, both of which appear to blend traditional architectural motifs with modern flourishes. The bar offers a good list of cocktails, which must be the only ones for miles around. A gin and tonic or Campari and orange next to the blazing, open fire after a long day’s trekking or motorbiking in the mountains is a real treat. Another treat after an excursion is to indulge in one of the traditional, herbal, therapeutic baths on offer. 

Dinner at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamGood, home-cooked, locally sourced meals are available & cocktails & wine are served in the bar

But all this comes at a price, and that price is usually around $50 a night for bed and breakfast, double occupancy. For a couple, or two friends sharing, this seems pretty reasonable, especially considering the location is so remote, and the fact that it’s a generally low-impact and environmentally friendly property. But, for the price, some guests might have higher expectations when it comes to the level of comfort and amenities. When I first visited the Ecolodge, I was quite surprised (but not disappointed) at how sparse the rooms were. This is something to bear in mind, particularly if you’re a budget traveller thinking of ‘splashing out’ for a night. Whenever I’ve stayed at Panhou Ecolodge I’ve shared the cost with a friend and felt that the room rate represented value for money. In any case, it’s such a lovely, lush, well-maintained, and pretty place that you won’t be thinking about the money. [Average rates are $40-$50. To check availability & make a reservation for Panhou Ecolodge please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Village Ecolodge is atmospheric, remote, cosy, comfortable & very scenically located

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this ecolodge and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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The Cafe Apartment at No.14 Ton That Dam, Saigon http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-cafe-apartment-at-no-14-ton-that-dam-saigon/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-cafe-apartment-at-no-14-ton-that-dam-saigon/#respond Fri, 12 Oct 2018 16:47:39 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27269 The old apartment block on Ton That Dam Street, in downtown Saigon, has been colonized by cool cafes, hipster bars & fashion boutiques. Gritty & intriguing architectural vestiges lurk in every nook & cranny of this enigmatic French colonial-era complex.... Continue reading

The post The Cafe Apartment at No.14 Ton That Dam, Saigon appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

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First published October 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

The old apartment block on Ton That Dam Street, in Saigon’s downtown District 1, has been colonized by cool cafes, hipster bars, fashion boutiques, and places to eat. What’s more, gritty and intriguing architectural vestiges lurk in every nook & cranny of this enigmatic French colonial-era complex. In the midst of rapid urban development, Saigon is losing many of its characterful, old apartments. The irony is that many of these apartment blocks are either vibrant street food zones or have become hip icons of modern, youthful Saigon. Almost nothing else in the city says ‘young, hipster, trendy, and sooo Saigon’ than an old apartment complex riddled with cafes, co-working spaces, boutiques, bars, and restaurants. Saigon’s most famous ‘apartment cafe’ is at N°42 Nguyen Hue Street. But the apartment at N°14 Ton That Dam Street (just a 10-minute stroll from its more famous sister) has long been a hip hangout, too. In fact, the Ton That Dam apartment was part of Saigon’s ‘cool scene’ way before the one on Nguyen Hue.

The Cafe Apartment at 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe old apartment at N°14 Ton That Dam has been colonized by cosy cafes, hipster hang-outs & bars

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GUIDE: TON THAT DAM CAFE APARTMENT


The Ton That Dam apartment complex, which by some accounts dates back to the 1860s but with extensive remodeling throughout the 20th century, is a sprawling maze of corridors, exterior stairwells, interior elevator shafts, mezzanine levels, home units, open shopfronts, dark antechambers, and cramped courtyards open to the bright, tropical sunshine. Its walls, floors, and surfaces are a colourful, textural collage of materials: cold concrete, wooden shutters, tiled floors, peeling plaster, exposed brickwork, external piping, whirring air-conditioning units, and nests of electricity cables twisted like jungle vines. This compelling and Instagram-ready structure houses an eclectic mix of cool, chic, elegant, and eccentric cafes, bars and boutiques, some of which would put Berlin or London to shame. As a general rule, expect to pay a premium for most things: after all, this is downtown, hipster Saigon. Here’s a floor-by-floor guide to the N°14 Ton That Dam apartment building.

*Note: Saigon’s old apartments are in a constant state of flux: I haven’t listed every business operating out of Ton That Dam in this guide, and some of the details are bound to change. Most of the cafes are open throughout the day; the bars tend to open from the afternoon into the night.

Click a floor from the list below to read more about it:

MAP:

N°14 Ton That Dam ‘Cafe Apartment’, District 1, Saigon

View in a LARGER MAP

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Ground Floor:

Enter the Ton That Dam apartment via an internal alleyway leading under the building, which also serves as the apartment’s motorbike parking lot. (Note: some cafes and bars give customers a ticket to waive the motorbike parking fee: 10,000vnd.) The apartment complex is located directly opposite the overbearing neoclassical facade of the State Bank of Vietnam, formerly the Banque de l’Indochine, in French colonial times. Unlike the Cafe Apartment on Nguyen Hue, the Ton That Dam building isn’t especially striking from the outside. A rather worn and weathered edifice of grey-brown concrete, its neglected condition reveals patches of exposed red brick here and there, like flesh wounds. But things change as soon as you enter the complex via the alleyway, which leads all the way through to a back-yard of sorts, over which a multilevel external staircase zig-zags above the courtyard. The complex is a amorphous jumble of architectural styles, from century-old out-buildings to 1950s apartment units and modern renovations. It’s fascinating to observe the different layers of the structure, which reveal themselves as you wander around.

On the ground floor, around the parking lot, there are a couple of boutiques, including Jubin Studio fashion store, Duong Le watch shop, and ACOHI craft gift shop, plus a decent vegan restaurant, Mãn Tự, that attracts local businessmen and Buddhist monks alike. But the ground floor is best-known for the views of the external stairwell and access to the all-important main internal staircase, which winds up from parking lot, with a handy list of all the cafes, boutiques, and emporiums posted on the wall.

The Cafe Apartment at 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe exterior of the Ton That Dam ‘Cafe Apartment’ complex in downtown District 1, Saigon


The Cafe Apartment at 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe external staircase at the back of the apartment complex, seen from the courtyard/parking lot


The Cafe Apartment at 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe beginning of the main internal staircase, with a list of apartment businesses on the wall

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First Floor:

Ascending the dark, atmospheric staircase to the first floor landing, shafts of light beam in through poky, shuttered windows, illuminating tiled floors and crumbling walls, graffitied with the art, logos, and slogans of the bars and cafes that lie ahead. On the first floor, the stairwell widens to provide room for the long-gone elevator system: now just an empty shaft which the staircase curls around, offering a sight line all the way to the top floor. It doesn’t take long to realize that the corners and corridors, the patches of light and shade, of regeneration and decay – almost everything about the Ton That Dam apartment – is perfect ‘camera candy’. Indeed, there’s often a queue of young Vietnamese posing on the stairs for their social media portraits.

The first floor divides neatly into two halves: right and left of the stairwell. To the right of the stairs there are high-end and second-hand clothing stores, such as Bui Shop, Troy’s, and MIS BE Boutique which, although worth poking your head into, have never enticed me enough to purchase anything. To the left of the stairwell is a superb clutch of trendy ‘vestige’ cafe-bars. Café Hoang Thi and Things Café are both wonderfully characterful and cool places to be, whether hanging out with friends or using them as digital nomad nests for a day. Café Hoang Thi is a desperately cool homage to old Saigon, with antique wooden furniture, textured stucco walls hung with original artwork, a mezzanine chill-out lounge, hanging lamps, cocktails, teas, juices, craft beer, Italian and Vietnamese coffee, and even a good soundtrack. Things Café has a similarly bohemian feel to it, but it’s quieter, cuter, and more romantic, hence the presence of cuddling couples on sofas. The tiled floors, wooden tables and chairs, creaking ceiling fans, table lamps, chess boards and Murakami books lying around all create a mellow, reflective mood.

Perhaps the most well-known of the first floor bars is Snuffbox, located directly opposite the elevator shaft. A concept bar designed around the idea of a 1920s speakeasy drinking hole – which were discreet, secretive places during Prohibition in the United States, when the sale of alcohol was banned – Snuffbox is very stylish and elegant, even if it does feel just a little bit pretentious. Drinks are expensive but very good; decor is perfectly judged. It’s only open in the evenings.

Cafe Hoang Thi, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamHoang Thi Cafe & Bar has a good drinks lists, an artistic vibe, good music, & great decor


Cafe Hoang Thi, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe entrance to Hoang Thi Cafe & Bar seen from the first floor corridor & landing


Things Cafe, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThings Cafe is a cosy & romantic ‘vintage’ coffee shop with antique decor & a mellow vibe

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Second Floor:

What’s particularly nice as you get to the higher floors is that the open-sided corridors get the breeze: the air circulates through the cramped, narrow spaces, and light filters in through hanging plants, decorative railings, and slatted shutters. To the right, as you come up the internal staircase to the second floor, a tight corridor with a tiled floor leads down to Zen Tea. Under the same management as Mãn Tự vegan restaurant on the ground floor, Zen Tea has a mellow, ‘Buddhist’ vibe. With green wooden shutters and green potted plants adorning a cabin-like space with a window onto the street below, it’s a cosy setting. Lots of lovely teas and infusions are available, and the menu operates on a donation bases: there are no set prices. (Note that the Other Person Cafe, the cutesy Japanese anime-themed cafe that used to be at the end of the second floor corridor, is now closed.) At least a couple of units on the second floor are homestay-style apartments. These are very snug, homey little dens, but they’re usually occupied, so the doors are closed. Also on the second floor, the Zero Waste Saigon office is located opposite the landing. This fascinating and admirable project aims to raise awareness of Vietnam’s huge problem of single-use plastic, while offering elegant alternatives to every day plastic use. They’re planning to open a shop here soon. Find out more on their website.

The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamLooking out an open window from the internal stairwell towards to the external staircase


The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamA view down to the courtyard from the top of the external staircase


The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe facade of the Ton That Dam apartment complex seen from behind, from the external staircase

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Third Floor:

Much of the third floor is being converted into chic, short-term rental apartments. Although these will definitely make great Airbnb-style properties, it seems a bit of a shame to me, because they are private, closed spaces, whereas part of what makes the other floors so attractive is the feeling of light and space you get from all the doors and windows being flung open, free for visitors to explore and wander almost at will. But I suppose this is what happens to all trendy locations in any major city. Just like London, where I’m from, creative people, usually young, move in to low-rent buildings or areas and slowly transform them: perhaps opening a couple of bohemian cafes, cheap restaurants, maybe some live musical performances, all of which cater, at first, to their wider circle of friends, but then attract a more diverse clientele. The space becomes hip and cool, driving the prices and prestige up, until the original occupants are forced to move out, and the yuppies move in to what are now high-rent apartments in a trendy part of town. For the time being, there’s a fair amount of renovation in progress on the third floor.

There are several trendy fashion stores to the left of the staircase as you ascend to the third floor. A Little Vintage, Kay Wai Streetwear, REDEVI (Retro Denim Vintage) all jostle for space along a dark corridor hung with fairy lights, and bare walls scrawled with murals. But the standout unit on the third floor is Thi Fi Cafe, right on the landing by the stairwell. White-washed brick walls, tiled floors, wooden tables, comfy sofas, fairy lights, a mezzanine seating area, and a window onto the street make Thi Fi a pleasant place to hang for a while with a book or a friend, sipping coffee, tea, or smoothies. In the evenings, acoustic sets are regularly performed by local musicians, making for a good atmosphere. At other times, pretty cheesy Asian pop is played through the speakers.

The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThe walls of the internal stairwell are graffitied with logos, tags, slogans & names of the businesses


The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamVintage decor decorating one of the many windows open to the breeze & sunlight outside


The Cafe Apartment, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamA corridor to an outbuilding off to one side of the main apartment structure: great for exploring

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Fourth Floor:

Follow the stairwell all the way up to the top and you’ll reach the fourth floor. From here, there’s a great view back down the empty elevator shaft with the stairway winding all around it to the ground floor. To the left of the landing, Mockingbird Cafe was one of the first places to put the Ton That Dam apartment on the ‘cool map’ of Saigon. Enter through the wooden doorway to a smallish, low-lit space with grey-painted walls decorated with chalk and paper, wooden tables and chairs on cold tiled floors, and lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Collections of empty bottles, dried flowers, fairy lights, and a few brooding fashion snaps plastered here and there, make Mockingbird feel like the dorm of a creative student from Swinging Sixties’ Britain. It has the cosy intimacy of a studio, and the space is just about chaotic enough to feel ‘lived in’. Amy Winehouse and some soulful classics suit Mocking Bird’s cool but mellow space. The drink list runs from coffee to cocktails, and the little balcony with fairy lights is a good place to bring a date.

Next door, at the end of the corridor, the recently opened Utakata Bar occupies the prime unit of all the apartments in the building: the corner of the top floor, with surrounding windows affording views out over Saigon and the Ben Nghe Channel. It’s a diminutive but classy little place, playing an interesting mix of Japanese pop and Western jazz. Drinks are fairly pricey (on a par with high-end hotels) but very, very good. There’s a long list of cocktails and Northeast Asian rice and plum wines. It’s open from 6pm until midnight and the perfect way to end an exploration of the Ton That Dam apartment building.

From the fourth floor there’s a great view down the empty elevator shaft to the bottom of the stairwell


Mockingbird Cafe, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamMockingbird Cafe was one of the first cafes to put the Ton That Dam apartment on the ‘cool map’


Utakata Bar, 14 Ton That Dam Street, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamUtakata Bar occupies the prime corner unit on the top floor: the drinks are very good (if pricey)

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this apartment complex and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Ha Giang http://vietnamcoracle.com/auberge-de-meo-vac-mountain-lodge-ha-giang/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/auberge-de-meo-vac-mountain-lodge-ha-giang/#comments Fri, 28 Sep 2018 04:57:53 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23578 A timber, tile & rammed-earth structure encircling a stone courtyard surrounded by a stone wall with haunting limestone peaks looming all around, the Auberge de Meo Vac is a remarkably atmospheric place to stay in Vietnam’s northernmost province, Ha Giang.... Continue reading

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First published September 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

A timber, tile and clay structure encircling a stone courtyard surrounded by a stone wall with haunting limestone peaks looming all around, the Auberge de Meo Vac is a remarkably atmospheric place to stay in Vietnam’s northernmost province, Ha Giang. Originally built in the 1930s as a home for a wealthy Hmong family, the adobe structure was faithfully restored in 2011, and is now the most distinctive place to stay in the town of Meo Vac, at the end of the legendary Ha Giang Extreme Loop. Located just out of town, on a slope among fields of elephant grass and sweet corn, the Auberge de Meo Vac (also known as Nhà Cổ Chúng Pủa) sits at the bottom of one of the steep limestone karsts that hold Meo Vac in a protective fist. I’ve stayed here a couple of times – once with a friend on a motorbike road trip, and once with my family on a 4×4 tour of the north – and loved it. There are dorms and private rooms, making it suitable for budget and mid-range travellers alike.

Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangHoused in a restored adobe Hmong home from the 1930s, the Auberge is a unique accommodation

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REVIEW: AUBERGE DE MEO VAC


Address: Chung Pua hamlet, Meo Vac town, Meo Vac District, Ha Giang Province, Vietnam [MAP]

Prices: $14 (dormitory), $55 (private double room) | Tel: (+84) 0 219 3871 686


MAP:

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Hidden away down an increasingly narrow paved road, which becomes a lane, which becomes a pathway, the Auberge de Meo Vac is a 5-minute stroll north of the sleepy town centre of Meo Vac. The Auberge is enclosed by a thick stone wall, around which locals grow sweet corn, herbs, and other vegetables. The wall runs around the perimeter of the Auberge, creating a kind of compound for the accommodation. But it doesn’t feel too private or closed-off, because the stone walls, although very thick, are only a few feet high, allowing guests to see out over the surrounding crops, houses, and limestone peaks.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe rammed earth, wood & tile Auberge is located down a lane just outside the town of Meo Vac

The first time you visit the Auberge, excitement builds as you approach the entrance gate via the narrow pathway. An imposing double wooden door leads through thick mud-brick walls, flanked by faded carved stone reliefs of dragons. Rough paving slabs lead under the arch and into the main stone courtyard, where the two-storey, yellow ochre facade of the Auberge bears down on the communal patio.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe entrance to the Auberge de Meo Vac is through a large wooden gate, opening onto a stone courtyard


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe attractive adobe facade of the Auberge glows in the late afternoon & morning sunlight

The complex of buildings that makes up the Auberge de Meo Vac is fairly simple and small, but striking, stark, and very attractive. The main structure fronting the stone patio is a two-storey rammed-earth building raised on a stone base with wooden beams supporting its overhanging tiled roofs. White windows with decorative ventilation slots adorn the otherwise bare adobe walls. Accessed via stone steps to a thick wooden door, the main structure opens onto a shared living room, with lamps, wooden furniture, and a large fireplace. Up the steep and fairly treacherous wooden stairs, the second floor is cramped but cosy: it feels like the loft of a medieval home. One side of the main courtyard is open to the countryside, but the other features a wood-and-tile structure on stilts, with the bar and reception downstairs, and the communal dormitory upstairs. The stone courtyard is the main focus of the Auberge: it’s a special and enchanting place to be.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe main building is a two-storey earth, stone & wood structure with an outbuilding attached


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe tiled rooftops, stucco walls & decorative windows make the Auberge an intriguing structure

The Auberge de Meo Vac is absurdly photogenic and picturesque, especially in the early mornings and late afternoons, when the low sunlight illuminates the clay walls, casting a warm light and long shadows across the stone courtyard. The Auberge has a remote, other-worldly, and timeless quality. To me, it can feel quite disorientating at times: I’ve stayed in similar places in southwestern China, on the Mongolian steppe and the great plains of Central Asia, and even the deserts and oases of the Arabian peninsular. And that is part of the magic of Ha Giang Province: it’s stark, bold, beautiful, haunting, empty, and enthralling. The Auberge captures much of this in its style, location, and accommodation. It’s a fitting place to stay when visiting Meo Vac as part of the Ha Giang Extreme North Loop, especially after days of long, hard riding in the mountains.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe Auberge de Meo Vac is a very photogenic place with its tiled roofs, stone courtyard & scenic setting


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe Auberge has a timeless quality & reminds me of similar places I’ve visited around the world

The sleeping capacity of the Auberge de Meo Vac is very small. There are only four private, double-occupancy rooms (two on each floor of the main building), and a communal dorm on the first floor of the outbuilding, which sleeps a maximum of 8-10 guests at a time. The dorm accommodation consists of single mattresses laid on a wicker mat on the wooden floor in a cosy room with soft lamp light, wooden beams, bare stucco walls, a wood-burning heater (necessary in the cold winter months), windows looking over the courtyard, and a balcony with lovely views onto the Auberge rooftops and surrounding countryside. At upwards of 330,000vnd ($14) per person, it’s expensive by dorm standards, but still in the budget price bracket, and well worth it for the experience of staying in such a memorable place (even if you do have to put up with the snoring of your dormitory companions).

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangDormitory accommodation is very good & cosy, even if it’s a bit pricier than most dorms

The private rooms are tasteful and atmospheric, but a bit dark and cramped for the price: 1,320,000vnd ($55). Large, comfortable beds sit on woven rattan carpets with lanterns illuminating the bare adobe and stone walls and structural wooden beams. Unfortunately, privacy is a problem, due to very thin walls and large gaps in the partitions. It’s also important to note that all rooms – private and dorms – have shared bathrooms, which are located on the ground floor behind the main building. Like everything else at the Auberge, the bathrooms are very tasteful, featuring stone and stucco walls, tiled floors, and beautiful stone sinks outside in the garden under bamboo bushes. Be very careful when negotiating the walk to the toilet during the night: it’s a death trap of wooden struts and steps.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangPrivate rooms are atmospheric but a bit gloomy & lacking privacy, especially considering the price

Room prices do not include breakfast, but all meals can be taken at the Auberge if you order in advance. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner (including vegetarian options) are available for between 100,000-250,000vnd ($4-$10). All meals are set menus according to whatever ingredients are in season and available at the local market in Meo Vac. The food is fresh, local, beautifully presented, and delicious, with the possible exception of the continental breakfast, which is fairly average. As an example, my first meal at the Auberge was stir-fried morning glory, local gourd, bamboo shoots, spring rolls, pickled ginger, stewed pork, and egg rolls.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangDinner at the Auberge (including vegetarian options) is very good, but breakfast is disappointing

Meals are served on the premises: you can choose to dine on the wooden picnic bench outside in the stone courtyard (perfect for summer nights under the moon and stars), or on the wooden furniture in the open-sided bar area, or in the communal living area on the ground floor next to the open fire (very cosy on cold, wintry nights). Drinks are available throughout the day, including juices, soft drinks, tea, coffee, cocktails, such as gin and tonic, home-brewed plum wine, and local corn liquor. In general, I found the alcoholic drinks to be good, and the coffee bad. The Auberge can also arrange lots of activities, such as hiking and trips to local ethnic minority markets.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangMeals are served in the courtyard on dry, clear nights, or in the fired-warmed living room on cold nights


The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangThe indoor communal areas at the Auberge, including a bar & a living room, are warm & cosy places

At night, as in all homestay-style accommodation in Vietnam, there’s the procession of sounds from outside: the night-time chorus. By day, even rural Vietnam is largely dominated by human sounds: motorbike engines, voices, farm machinery. But by night, animals rule the airwaves. From early evening the cicadas and the frogs and other bugs hum in the background; then the dogs in the dead of night, and cowbells from restless cattle in their straw cowsheds; then the cockerels, crowing from 4am in an increasing cacophony, until the sun rises. And, if the weather is bad, the sound of the rain hitting the tiled rooftops.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangAt night at the Auberge, the sounds of the Vietnamese countryside seep in through the windows

But one thing to remember when you’re staying at the Auberge de Meo Vac is that this is not a homestay; it’s a business. And, although staff are nice, they are not ‘hosts’ like the families of a homestay. Don’t expect a personal touch: this is a hotel, a unique and special one, certainly, but nonetheless a hotel and a business: you aren’t entering someone’s family home, and witnessing their daily life. This can feel quite jarring, because the Auberge feels like a homestay: but it isn’t.

The Auberge de Meo Vac Mountain Lodge, Chung Pua, Ha GiangAlthough it may look like one, it’s important to remember that the Auberge is not a homestay; it’s a hotel

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this accommodation and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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The Vietnam Coracle Map http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-vietnam-coracle-map/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-vietnam-coracle-map/#respond Fri, 07 Sep 2018 12:23:10 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=26948 An interactive map of Vietnam with all my guides, posts, articles, reviews, and videos marked on it, including direct links from the map to all my content. The Vietnam Coracle Map will help readers navigate the content on my website, in order to get to the information they are looking for.... Continue reading

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First published September 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | MAP | GUIDE | RELATED POSTS

The Vietnam Coracle Map is an interactive map of Vietnam with all my guides, posts, articles, reviews, and videos marked on it, including direct links from the map to all my content. As there are now hundreds of Vietnam Coracle posts and pages, the purpose of this map is to help readers navigate the content on my website, in order to get to the information they are looking for. I’ve tried to make the Vietnam Coracle Map as simple, practical, and easy-to-use as possible. The map should be pretty self-explanatory and intuitive for most people, especially those familiar with using Google Maps. But, to fully understand how the map works (on desktop and mobile), please take a few minutes to read the User’s Guide below, which will greatly improve your experience of the map.

The Vietnam Coracle MapAn interactive map with links to all my content: open the map or read the User’s Guide

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THE VIETNAM CORACLE MAP:


*Note: please read the User’s Guide below to fully understand how this map works

[Open Map in New Window: CLICK HERE]

*Open map in a new window

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HOW TO USE THE MAP:


Below is a detailed User’s Guide to the Vietnam Coracle Map. Please read it carefully so that you’ll get the most out of using this map. Note: in some cases there are separate instructions for desktop and mobile:

Opening & Viewing the Map:

Desktop & Mobile: You can use the Vietnam Coracle Map ‘inline’ on this page: this means you can navigate around, scroll in all directions, and click on any of the icons, markers, and links on the map as it appears on this page above. However, it’s probably easier to open the Vietnam Coracle Map in a new window: to do this, either click here, or click the ‘expand’ symbol in the top right corner of the map above, or click any of the links on this page saying ‘Open map in a new window‘.

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Using Layers & Categories:

The Vietnam Coracle Map is designed using the Google Maps ‘layers’ function. Each ‘layer’ is effectively a separate map, which displays a specific collection of markers, icons, and links corresponding to the title of the ‘layer’. My map has 7 layers: each layer represents a ‘category’ or ‘archive’ of the content on my website. The layers (i.e. categories) on my map are as follows:

  • Motorbike Guides
  • Travel & Destination Guides
  • Food & Drink Guides
  • Accommodation Guides
  • Transportation Guides
  • Videos
  • Information-Resources-Miscellaneous

Using the map ‘layers’ is slightly different on desktop and mobile. See the following instructions:

On Desktop: When viewing the Vietnam Coracle Map on desktop, the ‘list of layers’ (or ‘layers menu’) is displayed on the left side. See the instructions below:

  • Open the ‘Layers Menu’ on this page: To view the ‘list of layers’ on the map on this page above, you need to click the ‘menu’ symbol in the top left corner of the map. This will open a ‘list of layers’ on the left side of the map. To hide the list, click the ‘menu’ symbol again and the ‘list of layers’ will disappear.
  • Open the ‘Layers Menu’ in a new window: If you open the map in a new window here, the ‘list of layers’ should open by default on the left of the map. If not, click the ‘Map Legend’ button in the top left of the map and this will open the ‘list of layers’. To hide the list, click the three vertical dots next to the map title in the top left corner, then select ‘Collapse map legend’.

Once you have opened the ‘layers menu’, you will see a list of all 7 layers (i.e. categories) on the left side of the map. By default, all 7 layers are open and all icons, markers, and pins are displayed on the map. But you can choose to open or close whichever layers you want to. To do this, click the box next to any of the layer titles in order to check (open) or un-check (close) that layer. For example, if you click the box next to the layer title ‘Food & Drink Guides’, the map will display all icons, markers, and pins under that category. If you want to see more than one layer at the same time, simply click the box next to all the layers you want to see. For example, if you click ‘Food & Drink Guides’ and ‘Motorbike Guides’, the map will display all the icons, markers, and pins in both those categories. To ‘hide’ a layer from being displayed on the map, simply click the title (i.e. un-check the box) of the layer you want to hide.

On Mobile: When viewing the Vietnam Coracle Map on mobile, by default all 7 layers are open and all icons, markers, and pins are displayed on the map. In order to open the ‘layers menu’, you need to click the white tab at the bottom of the map, labelled ‘Vietnam Coracle Map’. This will open a list of all 7 layers (i.e. categories). Scroll up and down the ‘layers menu’ and check the box next to any of the layers you want the map to show. For example, if you check the box next to the layer title ‘Food & Drink Guides’, the map will display all icons, markers, and pins under that category. If you want to see more than one layer at the same time, simply check the box next to all the layers you want to see. For example, if you check ‘Food & Drink Guides’ and ‘Motorbike Guides’, the map will display all the icons, markers, and pins in both those categories. To ‘hide’ a layer from being displayed on the map, simply un-check the box next to the title of the layer you want to hide. When you have selected all the layers you want the map to display, click the ‘back arrow’ at the top left of the map. This will close the ‘layers menu’ and open the map again, this time showing all the icons, markers, and pins in all the layers (i.e. categories) that you have chosen.

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Using Icons, Markers, Pins & Links:

The Vietnam Coracle Map displays hundreds of icons, markers, and pins, each of which contains the title of one of my guides, posts, articles, reviews, or videos, and a direct link to that content on my website. If you click any icon on the map or any item in the ‘layers menu‘, you will find an image, a title, and a direct link to the content. However, using the map icons is different on desktop and mobile. See the following instructions:

On Desktop: You can use the map icons in two ways on desktop (the process is the same whether using the map inline on this page above, or in a separate window here). Either open the ‘layers menu’ (as explained above) and browse all the icons and titles by scrolling up and down the list and clicking on any of them. Or, keep the ‘layers menu’ closed, and simply browse the icons directly on the map, by zooming in and out and clicking on any of the icons you want to. Either way, when you click on an icon, in the ‘layers menu’ or directly on the map, this will open a tab which will slide out from the left. In this tab, you will see the title of the icon, an image to illustrate it, and a direct link in the description to the content on my website. For example, if you click on a yellow ‘food icon’ (a knife and fork), a tab will appear in the left of the map with the icon title (let’s say, ‘Coconut Ice Cream’), an image of ‘coconut ice cream’, and a link to my guide to ‘Coconut Ice Cream’, and so on. To close the icon tab, click the ‘back arrow’ next to the title in the top left corner, under the image. In this way, it should be easy and fun to browse the Vietnam Coracle Map, clicking on icons anywhere in Vietnam, and clicking the links to go directly to the relevant content on my site.

On Mobile: There are two ways to browse and open the icons when viewing the map on mobile (the process is the same whether using the map inline on this page above, or in a separate window here):

Browse Icons Using the ‘Layers Menu’: Open the ‘layers menu’ (by clicking the white tab ‘Vietnam Coracle Map’ at the bottom of the screen, as explained above) and browse all the icons and titles by scrolling up and down the list and clicking on any of them. When you click on an icon, a new tab will slide up from the bottom of the screen, and the icon you clicked will be highlighted on the map at the top of the screen. In the new tab, you will see the title of the icon, an image to illustrate it, and a direct link in the description to the content on my website. To close the icon tab, click the ‘back arrow’ next to the title under the image: this will take you back to the ‘layers menu’, where you can continue clicking on any icon you like.

Browse Icons Directly on the Map: The second option for browsing icons is to keep the ‘layers menu’ closed (on mobile, the ‘layers menu’ is closed by default when viewing the map inline on this page above, or in a separate window here) and navigate around the map, zooming in and out, and clicking on any icon you want directly on the map. When you click an icon, the title will appear in the white tab at the bottom of the screen. To open the tab, click it, and a new tab which will slide up from the bottom of the screen. In the new tab, you will see the title of the icon, an image to illustrate it, and a direct link in the description to the content on my website. To close the icon tab, click the ‘back arrow’ next to the title under the image: this will take you back to map, where you can continue clicking on any icon you like, and opening them in the same way as above. *Note: if you want to get back to the ‘layers menu’ after clicking icons directly on the map, you will need to close the icon tab as described above, and then click once directly on any blank area of the map: this will bring you back to the white tab named ‘Vietnam Coracle Map’ at the bottom of the screen. Click this tab to open the ‘layers menu’.

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Elegant Suites Westlake, Hanoi http://vietnamcoracle.com/elegant-suites-westlake-hanoi/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/elegant-suites-westlake-hanoi/#comments Fri, 24 Aug 2018 04:43:50 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23530 Comfy, smart & luxurious but unpretentious, Elegant Suites is a great alternative to staying in the cramped streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter. Located in the well-to-do district of West Lake, it's a chance to see a different, albeit more affluent, side of the capital. The facilities are fantastic & it's perfect for families, couples, or business travellers.... Continue reading

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First published August 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Hanoi’s West Lake District (Tây Hồ in Vietnamese) is the up-and-coming, fancy inner-suburb of Vietnam’s capital city. When I visit Hanoi, I usually stay in the small, shady, back-streets around St Joseph’s Church. But, on a recent trip, I chose to stay in Tây Hồ instead, at the Elegant Suites Westlake. I stayed on two separate occasions, both after long roads trips, when I felt like pampering myself after weeks in the saddle. I really enjoyed the change of location and the chance to see a different, albeit more affluent, side of Hanoi. This was also a much quieter, more serene and peaceful experience of Vietnam’s capital city: a welcome relief in a city that’s characterized by tight, busy streets and terrible air quality. The facilities at Elegant Suites Westlake are excellent, including a large swimming pool, gardens, kids playground, gym, sauna and steam bath. The rooms are enormous, modern and well-equipped, with balconies overlooking the lake and city skyline. Considering the level of accommodation, prices are pretty reasonable, especially if sharing with a friend, partner, or family. [Average rates are $80-$110. To check availability & make a reservation for Elegant Suites Westlake please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Elegant Suites Westlake, hotel & serviced apartments, HanoiGreat value for couples, families or friends sharing, Elegant Suites has excellent facilities

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REVIEW: ELEGANT SUITES WESTLAKE


Address: 10b Dang Thai Mai Street, Tay Ho District, Hanoi, Vietnam [MAP]

Average Price: $80-$110 | Website: www.elegantsuites.com


MAP:

View in a LARGER MAP


As the name suggests, West Lake District is the area spreading around the large lake known as Hồ Tây (West Lake), just north of central Hanoi. Many of the traditional tourist attractions, such as the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake, are just a 10-minute taxi ride from West Lake, and it can be nice to base yourself in the quieter, more comfortable surrounds of West Lake, and then ‘commute’ to the central areas during the day. Indeed, this is the main reason why West Lake has become so popular with expatriates and wealthy Vietnamese: they can live by the placid waters (and ever so slightly better air) of West Lake, while going to work in downtown Hanoi. This particularly appealed to me, because I’ve visited Hanoi dozens of times in the past and stayed in the busier central districts, so this time I wanted to try something different. I would imagine this might also appeal to first-time visitors who want to ease themselves into the intoxicating chaos of urban Vietnamese life, rather than jump straight in. And also to people travelling as a family, especially with young children.

Exterior, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiLocated in the affluent district of West Lake, Elegant Suites is a good alternative to staying downtown

I have a tendency to live in old, characterful houses – both in Vietnam and in the U.K, where I’m from. What struck me about Elegant Suites (which is a serviced apartment complex rather than a hotel) was how new and shiny everything is. Furniture, floors, bathrooms, beds all appeared to be modern and of good quality. Likewise, fixtures, fittings, and appliances seemed in perfect working order and felt like they’d continue to work for some time to come. This is not always the case with high-end accommodations in Vietnam, which, although brand new, feel as though they are built to last six months: the emphasis being on the appearance of quality. The staff at Elegant Suites also stood out compared to similarly priced accommodations: they were highly trained, helpful, attentive and had excellent English. They made service personal by remembering the names of guests and residents.

Guest room, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiFurniture & fixtures are new, modern & good quality, unlike some high-end accommodations in Vietnam

Elegant Suites is a large, twenty-something storey structure which looms over West Lake. There are other big serviced apartments and high-end hotels around the lake, but Elegant Suites is better value, in my opinion. Almost all of the apartments have balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, which you can leave open during the evenings, because they have sliding ‘bug screens’ so the mosquitoes can’t get inside. The building isn’t particularly attractive, but neither is it an eyesore, and it functions well. The porte-cochère is grand and bland and so is the lobby and reception. It’s all a bit clinical and business-like. But who cares, because you’re not going to spend much time in the lobby. The other side of the building (the lake side) is where most of the facilities are located. The pool is marvellous: a good length and depth, very clean, with a shallow end for children. The showers and gym are well-equipped, and the steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi are attractive enough to resemble a gentlemen’s club bathhouse.

Swimming pool, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiThe swimming pool at Elegant Suites is fantastic & so too is the gym, sauna & spa

There are a few room types to choose from. The cheapest is a Studio Room, but the bigger One-Bedroom Apartment is only a few dollars more and you get a lot more space and a better view, so it’s well worth the extra. The other options are Two- or Three-Bedroom Apartments which are excellent value for a family or a few friends sharing (room sizes range from 50-100m²). In your apartment you get, well, everything: two bathrooms with shower and bathtub, fully equipped open-plan kitchen (including laundry and dish washing machines) leading onto a wide, bright living room with comfy sofas and armchairs, a dining room table, large soft beds, loads of windows and a big balcony with views over the city, or the lake, or the Red River. There’s even a coffee machine with daily supplies of espresso tablets, including de-cafe. Because Elegant Suites is a serviced apartment, it feels much more like staying in a home rather than a hotel, but with all the conveniences of the latter. Comfy, smart and luxurious but unpretentious, it really is a great space to have at your disposal while staying in Hanoi.

Guest room, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiGuest rooms are fully equipped apartments, very comfortable with lots of space & balconies

The Camellia Restaurant, on the ground floor to the side of the lobby isn’t great. The variety of Western and Asian dishes is O.K but the quality is below average. If you do eat here, go for one of the Asian dishes as these are a lot better than the Western ones. However, the restaurant redeems itself when it comes to the buffet breakfast, which is included in the room price. A medium-sized spread, the quality is very good, especially the coffee. Even high-end hotels in Vietnam tend to let themselves down when it comes to the coffee at the buffet breakfast, often resorting to weak filter or even instant coffee. But the coffee at Elegant Suites is strong, flavourful and good. There’s a wide range of eggs ordered off a menu and the crispy bacon is excellent. And, get this, the fruit juices aren’t sugary cordial but actually come from real life fruit. All in all, it’s a good way to start the day.

Breakfast, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiAlthough the restaurant isn’t great, the buffet breakfast (included in the room price) is very good

A daily shuttle bus from Elegant Suites takes you into town and back, or you can get a taxi. Either way, it’s a short hop of about 10 minutes, depending on traffic. However, there’s plenty to do, see and eat within walking distance of Elegant Suites: take a stroll along the lakeside road, stop for a coffee at a lakeside cafe, and get some food at one of the lakeside restaurants. West Lake is more of an expat enclave/well-to-do Vietnamese neighbourhood than the local streets you find in the city proper. But it’s still pleasant and rewarding to explore.

View from Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiElegant Suites is a 10-minute free shuttle bus ride from Hanoi’s main sights & attractions

In general, the guests at Elegant Suites are Northeast Asian families living in the apartments or Asian business people. There’s also a handful of Western business travellers and expats. You won’t find many holidaymakers staying here, even though it’s perfectly suitable for families or couples. I stayed here with a good friend from the U.K on one occasion, and with my parents on another. It worked out really well both times. The location and accommodation gave us the time, space, leisure and facilities to unwind and enjoy each others’ company, while dipping into the chaotic charms of central Hanoi during the day. At Elegant Suites you get a lot more for your money than you would at similarly prices accommodations located in the city centre, around Hoan Kiem Lake, for example. [Average rates are $80-$110. To check availability & make a reservation for Elegant Suites Westlake please BOOK HERE].

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Guest room, Elegant Suites Westlake, HanoiI stayed at Elegant Suites twice (with my friends & family) & both times were very relaxing & comfortable

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this hotel and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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A Guide to Climbing Mount Fansipan Independently http://vietnamcoracle.com/a-guide-to-climbing-mount-fansipan-independently/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/a-guide-to-climbing-mount-fansipan-independently/#comments Fri, 17 Aug 2018 08:07:20 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23630 Known as the 'Roof of Indochina', Mount Fansipan is the highest mountain in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. At 3,143m (10,312ft) it's a 'real' mountain. But Fansipan can be climbed independently, without a guide or porters or any specialist climbing equipment, in one day..... Continue reading

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First published August 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Fansipan (or Phan Xi Păng in Vietnamese) is the highest mountain in Indochina. At 3,143m (10,312ft) it’s a real mountain, but can be climbed without any specialist equipment or guides or porters. Located near the former French colonial hill station of Sapa, Fansipan is part of Vietnam’s Hoang Lien Son Range, which is essentially the southeastern-most extent of the same continental collision that formed the Himalayas. The ascent of Mount Fansipan can be made comfortably in one day if you are in reasonably good physical condition. And, now that the new and controversial cable car to the summit has opened, it’s possible to make the return trip to Sapa on the same day. It’s not necessary to hire a guide for the hike, but obviously you must be extremely careful and plan sensibly before setting out. The ascent takes between 6-8 hours depending on your pace, and the views are stupendous. But Sapa’s bleak climate means that Fanispan and the surrounding mountains are often hidden behind a grey, lingering mist that refuses to lift for days at a time. Even so, it’s still a challenging, rewarding, exciting, and beautiful trek. Below is my guide to climbing Fansipan independently.

Climbing Fansipan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamThe Roof of Indochina: it’s possible to climb Mt. Fansipan independently, without a guide, in one day

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GUIDE: CLIMBING MtFANSIPAN


There are several trails to reach the summit of Mount Fansipan, known romantically as the ‘Roof of Indochina’. However, only one is easy enough (and safe enough) to follow independently, without a guide. This is the trail that begins at the entrance to Thác Tình Yêu (Love Waterfall), 15km west of Sapa on road QL4D. Known as the Tram Ton Pass trail, it’s fairly easy to follow and, despite local opinions to the contrary, can comfortably be climbed in one day, without a guide. However, it’s still essential to prepare and climb responsibly and safely. In this guide, I’ve tried to include as much information as I can so that other climbers who want to make the ascent independently may do so. However, please note that although all the information in this guide is accurate at the time of writing, I can’t guarantee that things won’t change in the near future.

Click an item below to read more about it:

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Mount Fansipan & Environs

View in a LARGER MAP

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Time, Distance & Duration:

According to the signs at the trailhead, the one-way trek from the starting point of the Tram Ton Pass trail (at the entrance to Love Waterfall) to the summit of Mount Fansipan is 11.2km. We made the ascent in 6 to 6.5 hours. We climbed at a leisurely pace with regular short breaks, either to rest or to hydrate and have a snack, or to take photos and admire the views. We left our hotel in Sapa at a reasonable hour in the morning, after breakfast, sometime around 7.30am. The taxi ride to the trailhead takes 10-20 minutes, so we were on the trail by roughly 8.00am. We reached the summit after lunchtime, approximately 2.15pm. You could potentially make the ascent in under 6 hours if you’re very fit, don’t stop often, and have perfect trekking conditions. However, I would imagine that for most people of average fitness who simply want to successfully scale the highest mountain in Indochina and enjoy the walk, the views, and the experience (rather than treat it as an athletic contest), a general estimation would be anywhere from 6-9 hours. But there are other factors to consider: weather conditions might slow you down; perhaps you will get cramp and need an extended rest; maybe part of the trail is obstructed by a large branch or landslide. This is why you should leave fairly early in the morning, so that even if you encounter any unforeseen circumstances, you will still have time to reach the summit before nightfall. Note that, if you do run out of daylight hours, there are two permanent camps along the trail to the summit, one at 2,200m, the other at 2,800m.

Climbing Fanispan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamThe hike on the Tram Ton Pass trail is 11.2km: it can be completed in one day if you start in the morning

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Fitness & Endurance:

Climbing Mount Fansipan in one day via the Tram Ton Pass trail is something that most people in reasonably good shape can do. However, it does require a significant physical effort and, because of the altitude, breathing difficulties caused by lack of oxygen make the climb even more of a challenge. When I made the ascent I was 34 years old and in pretty good physical condition. I was with my dad and uncle, who were 73 and 69 respectively, both of whom take daily exercise in the form of long-distance swimming and running. I found the ascent challenging but by no means exhausting. However, I do take regular, strenuous exercise. I also think that my concern for my dad and uncle’s physical well-being on the trek kept me focused on their efforts rather than my own. My dad and uncle both made the ascent without incident, but they both agreed it was one of the toughest physical pursuits they can remember undertaking. We encountered around a dozen other climbers on the trail (all with guides), most of whom were younger than us and had taken two days for the ascent, spending one night at one of the base camps. However, the other climbers appeared to be mostly of average fitness and had not had any trouble making the ascent. They seemed to be in good spirits and while they had found the climb challenging, they were not exhausted. The first half of the trail is well-marked and of moderate steepness, but the second half is rocky and very steep at times, involving metal ladder and peg-ladder climbs. Particularly grueling is the last couple of hours, when several steep ascents immediately descend again, which can be very demoralizing, especially as the air is getting thinner and your body more tired.

Climbing Fanispan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamAlthough strenuous, the climb can be completed by most people in reasonably good physical condition

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Supplies & Equipment:

Although you don’t need any specialist equipment to climb Mount Fansipan, you still need to carefully consider what to wear for the trek and what to bring with you. The unpredictable mountain weather means that conditions can be very hot and very cold on the same day. In general, temperatures around Mount Fansipan and Sapa are significantly cooler than lowland Vietnam. Daytime temperatures can be mild to warm (15-25°C) during the summer months, or cool to cold (5-10°C) during the winter. On the summit it can reach freezing, and the added wind chill factor can make it feel even colder. However, the physical exertion of the climb will make you feel stuffy and hot. Therefore, it’s best to dress in light but warm and windproof clothing, with the option to strip off one layer if you get too hot. For example, we wore a T-shirt, sweater, and thin waterproof at the beginning of the climb, when the morning temperatures were cool and our bodies had not warmed up. During the middle of the trek, with the difficulty and temperature increasing, we stripped off a layer. But as the clouds descended, the wind picked up, and a light rain began to fall near the summit, we re-clothed for full protection.

Climbing Fanispan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamNo specialist climbing equipment is necessary, but good shoes & sensible clothing are important

For footwear, standard hiking shoes are perfect, but decent trainers are also fine. I made the climb in my Adidas Barricade tennis shoes, which are fairly hardy trainers. (Many of the guides we met were wearing flip-flops for the climb, and the Vietnamese young women in their group were wearing plastic bags over their shoes to keep them dry and clean, which would also make them treacherously slick.)

Take a small backpack with some food and drink supplies, and remember to leave room for your clothes for when you get too hot. There are no shops or kiosks on the trail, although you could potentially stop at one of the two camps if you needed to. The most important thing to bring is water, lots of it. Dehydration leads to cramp and that can be extremely dangerous on a mountain. We took three litres of water each (two 1.5 litre bottles in each of our backpacks). For food, we stocked up on local milk candy bars (bánh sữa) and Vietnamese energy bars, called lương khô, which are like army rations: compact and full of energy. At the summit there are all sorts of dining and drinking options, so you can look forward to a hot coffee and a burger when you get to the top. My dad took his trekking poles which he’d brought with him from the U.K, but you might be able to find them in the stores in Sapa somewhere, too.

Climbing Fanispan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamTake a small backpack with some warm clothes, food & lots of water for the climb

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Safety & Permission:

Although Mount Fansipan can be climbed independently, without requiring any specialist equipment, climbing abilities, or permission, it is still vital that you treat the ascent seriously by preparing sensibly and climbing responsibly. There have been deaths on the mountain in recent years, including foreign tourists attempting the ascent without a guide. Like any high mountain, Fansipan can be dangerous, and the risks of climbing alone, without a guide, should not be underestimated.

The trail is well-marked for most of the ascent and is fairly easy to follow. However, when the clouds descend on the mountain, visibility can be very bad, leading to difficulty finding your way. In damp conditions, the rocks can become very slippery. Tread carefully because even a minor slip can lead to an injury, and even something as small as a sprained ankle can cause big problems when on a cold, wet mountainside with no help. It should go without saying that straying from the trail, or climbing boulders and cliff faces without proper equipment, is an extremely bad idea.

Fansipan mountain, VietnamThe dangers of climbing Mt. Fansipan, especially without a guide, should not be underestimated

It’s essential to stay hydrated. Bring lots of water with you. The climb is strenuous so you will be perspiring all the time, even if it doesn’t feel like it because of the cool weather conditions. Dehydration leads to cramp, which can be a major hindrance, forcing you to stay static for hours at a time. Cramp may not sound serious, but if your legs cramp at 10,000ft as a storm is blowing in and the daylight is fading, your situation can suddenly become very grave. Make sure you bring some warm clothing. The mountain can get very cold, even in the summer months. If you get stuck on the mountain in freezing temperatures, hypothermia is a serious possibility.

If possible, don’t climb alone. Go with a companion or a small group. If something happens to one of you, the other can get help. Bring your mobile phone. There’s a phone signal for most of the ascent. Make sure you have a local SIM card with plenty of credit. It’s best to get a Viettel SIM, because they tend to have the widest coverage in the mountains. Make sure your battery is fully charged, or even better, bring a USB battery pack so you can recharge your phone on the climb. Take a small flashlight in case it gets dark.

Climb Fansipan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamClimb carefully & responsibly, because even a minor incident can become very serious on a mountain

When it comes to permission, before the ascent I’d read all sorts of stories about independent climbers not being allowed on the mountain, being turned back or even fined by national park authorities. In reality, however, we didn’t encounter any authorities on the climb, no tickets or permission papers were asked for, and none of the official guides we passed and spoke with mentioned anything at all about it. No doubt, one of the reasons the authorities and tourist agencies in Sapa say it’s not possible to climb Fansipan independently is because, if such a climber were to have an accident, it would not only be a personal tragedy, it would give the mountain and the national park bad press and a bad name. This seems reasonable to me. However, part of discouraging independent climbers is also likely to do with money. A guided climb can cost upwards of $100. And yet, we met a number of guides and their groups who didn’t appear to have safety in mind: they were climbing with flip-flops or, in some cases, with plastic bags over their shoes so as not to get them wet or dirty, thus increasing the chances of a nasty slip or fall because of the lack of traction. Unless things have changed by the time you read this, it certainly is possible to climb Fansipan independently, without a guide and without needing to get permission. However, if you do climb independently, have some respect for the mountain and for the independent climbers who will follow in your footsteps: don’t be reckless; climb responsibly and safely. If your negligence leads to an accident on the mountain, you give other independent climbers a bad name, and the authorities the perfect excuse to ban independent climbers in the future.

The hiking rail up Fansipan mountain, VietnamOn our climb, we weren’t asked for tickets or any kind of permission to scale the mountain independently

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Weather & When to Go:

As with most high mountains, weather on Fansipan is very unpredictable and subject to change within minutes all year round. In the morning, the summit might be perfectly visible from Sapa, gleaming in the fresh highland light; but by the time you reach the trailhead, just 15 minutes later, thick cloud might have descended on the lower slopes, and a drifting rain set in above the forests. Likewise, the temperatures fluctuate from hour to hour. Perhaps hiking through the dense forests on the lower slopes, humidity and heat will force you to strip off your layers; but as soon as you emerge from the foliage onto an exposed, treeless ridge, the wind ripping in from the north, you’ll be chilled to the bone and reaching for your jacket. Most people agree that the best times of year for climbing Fansipan are spring (March, April) and autumn (September, October). During these months there’s a good chance that the sun will shine for at least some portions of the climb and temperatures are fairly mild. On our climb, for example, we had beautiful weather in the morning, but the higher we ascended the more the weather closed in, and for the last third of the climb we could hardly see 10 metres ahead of us, including at the summit.

Misty, cloudy weather over Fansipan mountain, VietnamConditions can change quickly on the mountain: in general, spring & summer months are best

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Getting to the Trailhead:

Sapa is the base from which to plan and start your ascent of Mount Fansipan. From the hotels, hostels and homestays in and around Sapa, it’s a 10-20 minute journey by taxi to the trailhead at the top of the Tram Ton Pass (also known as O Quy Ho Pass). Ask your taxi to take you to Thác Tình Yêu (Love Waterfall), which is 15km west of Sapa on road QL4D. The car park and entrance to Love Waterfall is on your left (if you’re approaching from Sapa) just at the top of a mountain pass, which is in turn the beginning of the Tram Ton Pass, wiggling its way around the mountains to the west of Love Waterfall. By the roadside opposite the entrance to Love Waterfall, a large billboard titled ‘Hoang Lien Son National Park’ has a rudimentary map of the three trails leading to the summit of Mount Fansipan, including the camp sites. The one that begins at Love Waterfall (the Tram Ton Pass trail) is the furthest to the right on this map. However, there’s very little detail. From the car park at Love Waterfall, walk under the entrance arch (with the words ‘Suối Vàng-Thác Tình Yêu’) and bear left, opposite the ticket kiosk for the waterfall. There’s a little noticeboard titled ‘Rules for Conquering Fansipan Summit’, at the bottom of which is a casual arrow announcing ‘Fansipan Summit 11.2km’. (Note: when we made the ascent, there was no one at the entrance, or anywhere else for that matter, who asked us to buy tickets for the trail.)

A taxi is the easiest way to get to the trailhead at Love Waterfall. There are lots of taxis in Sapa and the fare is only around $10 (200,000vnd). However, you could also arrange a motorbike taxi from Sapa (which would be cheaper), or a minivan (if there’s a group of you) which can be arranged through your hotel, or even self-drive there on a rented motorbike, but then, of course, you’d have to return to the trailhead after the climb in order to pick up your bike again.

The hiking trail up Fansipan mountain, VietnamThe Tram Ton Pass trailhead is at the entrance to ‘Love Waterfall’, 15km west of Sapa

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The Climb & Ascent:

From the trailhead, the pathway immediately plunges into brush and forest. The trail is good: paved at first, with large stepping stones over cold mountain streams. Some of the trees, bushes and flowers are labeled. The canopy is thick but light shines through the branches, illuminating patches of the forest floor, thick with roots and fallen leaves. The first hour or so is peaceful, quiet, gentle and pretty – it reminded me of walking in the Welsh landscape on a damp but bright spring day.

The hiking trail up Fansipan mountain, VietnamThe early stages of the climb are gentle & well-marked, passing through forests & over streams

The Tram Ton Pass trail to the Fansipan summit is undulating: it rises steeply and then falls. This can be dispiriting, because each time you expend effort to ascend a steep section, the pathway immediately descends half the height you just gained. Thus, it feels like two steps forward, one step back. A couple of hours into the climb, the forest gradually fades: going from a thick, gnarly canopy, to a spindly, thin covering with bald patches, until it disappears altogether, leaving you hiking along the top of an exposed ridge. Although open to the elements, the views back over the forested valleys and mountains are wonderful.

Climbing Fansipan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamThe forest cover disappears as you climb higher, and the trail is largely a dirt path & stone steps

The middle section of the climb involves increasingly steep hikes along a clearly marked but deteriorating dirt trail. From the first campsite at 2,200m (there are two on the climb, both of which consist of corrugated iron roofed huts), the going gets tougher. The trail is steep, slippery and rutted; grooved by rivulets of rain water running down the mountainside. The air gets thinner, breathing becomes more difficult, the wind picks up and the temperature plummets. There are expansive views east over Sapa and west over Lai Chau, but during our ascent this was when the clouds drew a curtain of grey over the mountain, and although we could feel the gaping landscapes below us, we couldn’t see much at all.

Climbing Fansipan mountain independently, without a guide, VietnamSome sections are very steep & require a bit of scrambling & ladder climbing to ascend

Before reaching the second campsite (at 2,800m), there are a couple of major ascents which climb in altitude very rapidly. Parts of this section are so steep and rocky that metal rails, fixed ladders, and peg-ladders have been installed to help climbers get up. These can be quite tricky, especially if it’s wet. There are a few big and dangerous drops close to the ladders, so it’s essential to climb cautiously. This is also the point at which, if you suffer from vertigo, the steep slopes, sharp drops, and sensation of being very high up may start to affect you. A variety of bamboo grows on the mountainside here, known as ‘Dwarf Bamboo’. As the named suggests, it’s short and stocky but has delicate leaves and stems, unlike the large, towering clumps of bamboo you get in lowland Vietnam. Also, several kinds of rhododendron bushes that like high altitude are scattered around the trail, their pink, purple and violet flowers brightening the grey weather conditions.

Wild flowers on Fansipan mountain, VietnamAs well of large trees & gaping valleys, colourful wildflowers & ‘dwarf bamboo’ grow on the mountainside

The last climb, from the second campsite to the summit, is tough. It starts out gentle, and then descends. You pay for this later when the gradient gets very steep, including a peg-ladder up a sheer rock face. There’s a dramatic moment when a giant escarpment reveals itself, plunging down into the cloudy abyss below. For me, this was the first time on the climb that I had the sensation of being near the peak of a big mountain. It suddenly struck me that we were now higher than any other natural formation in this southeastern corner of the Asian continent. Strangely, this was also the moment when we heard, and then saw, the cable car emerging from the mist above us. Then came the sound of clanking hammers working on the construction site that sprawls around the peak. In fact, there was plenty of construction debris strewn around the trail as we got nearer the summit, presumably discarded from the building site. This made us think we were near the top, but the climb dragged on, winding around the various developments: pagodas, a giant seated Buddha, restaurants, viewing platforms, shops. When we finally reached the grand, wide staircases leading to the summit, the weather had closed in to the point that the pylons marking the peak were hardly visible. We weren’t rewarded with fine views over the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range, but I’m sure they are absolutely spectacular in clear weather. However, this didn’t take anything away from our own sense of achievement at having made the climb and enjoyed it.

Fanispan mountain summit, VietnamThe last section of the ascent is the most tiring, but at the summit you can wave the Vietnamese flag

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At the Summit:

Only a few years ago, the summit of Mt. Fansipan was what mountain peaks should be: wild, windswept, and isolated; just you are your fellow climbers standing alone, seemingly on top of the world, with nothing but nature surrounding you. And all this was gained through your own physical effort; the views over endless ridges and peaks poking above the clouds your reward for the climb. These days, however, things are very different indeed. In 2016, a cable car to the summit of Fansipan opened, thus transforming the ‘Roof of Indochina’ forever (more about the cable car below). After climbing for over 6 hours through forests, along streams, over giant, moss-fleeced boulders, and into the clouds without encountering more than a dozen people along the way, it comes as quite a shock when, within sight of the summit, the silence is broken by the purr of the cable car, the clank-clank of construction work, the nasal tones of announcements over public address systems, and the silhouettes in the mist of what appears to be a city in the sky. This is the reality of Fanispan’s summit today: a commercial toy town of fast food stands, souvenir shops, photography booths, tourist transportation systems, grand staircases, wooden decks and plank walkways, Vietnamese flags, summit pylons, and a sprawling Buddhist temple complex, including a giant seated Buddha presiding over the scene.

Statue of seated Buddha, Fansipan mountain summit, VietnamThe summit of Mt. Fansipan is a bit of a tourist trap these days: there are temples & souvenir shops

It’s jarring, impressive, unsettling, convenient, and confusing. In the thin air, hungry and tired after the climb, I felt a kind of culture shock on arriving at this fairground of a mountaintop. We were grateful for the hot food at the restaurant and the good, strong, hot coffee, and we gladly grabbed the Vietnamese flags, provided at the summit, and waved them above our heads next to the pylons. And we were relieved at the attractive (too attractive to resist) option of taking the cable car down the mountain, back to Sapa. We would have enjoyed the views, too, were it not for a thick fog. To some extent, at least, the structures built on and around the summit are in fairly good taste and make an impressive visual impact. The imperial-style gates that appear to lead into a kingdom beyond the clouds for example, or the mysterious silhouette of the giant Buddha waxing and waning in the mist, seemingly levitating above the material world. It was odd to see the crowds of people there, most of whom were dressed in their best, shiniest winter clothes so as to look good in all the portraits they were having taken at the summit. For Vietnamese, it’s becoming a national pilgrimage to take the cable car to the top of Fansipan, the highest point of their nation. We saw octogenarians and toddlers at the summit, neither of whom would be there were it not for the cable car. Even so, it left me feeling conflicted. I was glad we’d hiked up rather than taken the cable car. It made us feel we deserved the views (if we could have seen them), and the food, and the coffee, and the cuddly toys, and the ‘I Conquered Fansipan’ T-shirts…..

Tour groups at Fansipan mountain summit, VietnamSince the cable car opened in 2016, thousands of people visit the Roof of Indochina each day

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The Cable Car & the Descent:

If you really wanted to, you could hike back down the mountain the same way you came up, but it would be very tough and inadvisable to attempt to do this on the same day as the ascent. Another option is to descend on one of the two other Fansipan trails, but these are supposed to be more challenging and longer treks, and I can’t vouch for doing either of these trails independently. For us, it was all about the ascent, and we never had any intention of hiking back down: we always planned on taking the cable car back from the summit. Arriving at the peak around 2pm, we stayed for an hour or two, and left on the cable car around 4pm, thus arriving back at our hotel in Sapa before sunset, at around 5:30pm. This worked out perfectly for us, and it was a very satisfying, fulfilling way to spend a day. 

The Fansipan mountain summit cable car, VietnamThe cable car is a convenient option for climbers who want to get back to Sapa in one day

The cable car is a spectacular ride, passing high above the forested valley, in and out of the clouds, going from alpine forests near the top to terraced rice paddies near the bottom. The ride only takes about 15 minutes, even though it’s over 6km long and has an elevation gain of over 1,400m. It’s a smooth, beautiful ride, the cars are large, bright, comfortable and clean, and they operate constantly from 7am to 6pm. There’s even a train running from the cable car station at the bottom into Sapa town, or you can easily take a taxi. However, ticket prices for the cable car are high: 700,000vnd ($30) one-way for adults.

The Fansipan mountain summit cable car, VietnamThe cable car is a very scenic & comfortable ride, but it is quite expensive ($30 one way)

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The Extreme Northwest Loop: Motorbike Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-extreme-northwest-motorbike-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-extreme-northwest-motorbike-guide/#comments Thu, 02 Aug 2018 10:16:32 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23643 Straddling the Chinese & Lao borders, the extreme northwest of Vietnam is one of the least travelled & most remote regions of the entire country. Mountain roads carve a circuitous course between Lao Cai, Sapa, and Dien Bien Phu, running perilously close to the infamous Golden Triangle.... Continue reading

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First published August 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

The extreme northwest of Vietnam – the big mountainous bulge west of Highway QL12, around the Black River basin – is probably the most remote region of the entire country. Straddling the border of Dien Bien and Lai Chau provinces, it’s certainly one of the least-travelled areas in Vietnam. The extreme northwest abuts both China and Laos, thus this route travels through extensive borderlands, which are often very sensitive. Indeed, this region is perilously close to the infamous Golden Triangle. As such, local police and government officials may hinder your progress. However, old roads have recently been upgraded, and new ones have been blown through the mountains, creating an extremely mountains, off-the-beaten-track, and circuitous route between Lao Cai and Dien Bien Phu. The roads lead further, higher, and deeper into the northwest mountains than ever before, threading between peaks pushing 10,000ft, which are the southeastern-most extent of the same geological collision that formed the Himalayas. It’s also possible to turn this route into a loop.

The Extreme Northwest Motorbike Loop, Lai Chau & Dien Bien, VietnamThe Extreme Northwest is probably the most remote, least travelled & mountainous region in Vietnam

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GUIDE: THE EXTREME NORTHWEST


ROAD TRIP DETAILS:

  • Total Distance: 800km/400km/310km (one-way)
  • Duration: 2-7 days
  • Route: three remote & mountainous routes between Lao Cai & Dien Bien Phu [MAP]
  • Road Conditions: paved back-roads, new highways, light traffic, regular landslides
  • Scenery: mountains, rivers, rice terraces, minority villages, remote borderlands


CONTENTS:

The Black River, Lai Chau Province, Northwest VietnamThe Extreme Northwest is characterized by forested highlands rising above the Black River basin


About this Route:

*IMPORTANT: Parts of this route travel through sensitive areas: please read the following paragraphs carefully before setting out on this road trip.

The main route in this guide is all about exploring remote roads and regions: it’s by no means the most direct route between Lao Cai and Dien Bien Phu, and sometimes it requires back-tracking. But the rewards are big scenery and virtually no other travellers. The total distance between Lao Cai and Dien Bien Phu via the main route (the blue line on my map) is 800-900km. However, you can also turn this into a loop by returning via road QL6 and Sin Ho (the green line on my map: 400km), or the most direct route via QL12 and QL4D (the red line on my map: 310km). Using any of these routes, the one-way or return journey between Lao Cai and Dien Bien Phu can take anything between 2-7 days, depending on road conditions and weather. Despite its remoteness, the roads are generally in reasonable condition and there’s accommodation (usually in the form of local guest houses, called nhà nghỉ) at all of the towns and villages marked with a red pin on my map. However, as the roads are so mountainous, they are highly susceptible to landslides, especially after heavy rains, which can render them impassable for hours or sometimes days. In my experience, weather is best from March-May and September-October.

You need a lot of time, patience and flexibility for this route, because if the landslides don’t stop you at some point, the local authorities will. The border regions are very sensitive to the Vietnamese government and army. In particular, if you ride the roads between Muong Te, Muong Nhe and A Pa Chai (marked with a black line on my map), you should ask permission at the local government/police offices first; or head out and hope for the best, but you do so at your own risk. If stopped you will most likely not suffer anything worse than a fine, but there’s always the possibility of something more serious, such as your bike being impounded or even visa issues. In general, I found the authorities on this route to be polite and accommodating. But remember, you are a guest in another country.

The road to the Extreme Northwest, Lai Chau, VietnamThe Extreme Northwest is more accessible than ever thanks to new roads, but remains a sensitive region

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About this Map & Guide:

Below is a detailed, annotated route map followed by a short image gallery illustrating the kind of landscape and scenes you can expect to find on this road trip. On the map, I’ve outlined 3 main routes between Lao Cai and Dien Bien Phu. The blue route is the real Extreme Northwest: this is the longest, most remote, least travelled, and highest of all the routes. The green route is slightly shorter, with equally spectacular landscape and unpredictable road conditions. The red route is the easiest, most direct, and most travelled (but still highly scenic and remote). In general, the idea is to take one route out and another route back, thus creating a full Extreme Northwest Loop. On my map, I’ve started the route at the train station in Lao Cai, because this is where many travellers begin their road trips in northern Vietnam, having shipped their bikes as freight on the overnight train from Hanoi. However, another convenient starting point is Sapa, since it’s such a popular destination and there are many places to rent motorbikes. (Note that the route from Lao Cai to Sapa is covered in my Y Ty Loop Guide and the route from Sapa to Sin Ho is covered in my Sin Ho Loop Guide.)

As mentioned before, bear in mind that this is an extremely rugged, remote, sparsely populated, and politically sensitive part of the country, so take your time and take it easy. Roads can be dangerous, not because of traffic, but because of landslides, potholes, and inclement weather. Much of the Black River valley has been flooded for hydroelectricity projects, and this has shifted road routes away from their original course along the river banks: in some cases, Google has yet to update its maps, so there are some discrepancies between the roads as they appear on the map and their actual route. However, the general route is still the same, just several kilometres further away from the river banks, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate. There’s at least one local guest house (nhà nghỉ in Vietnamese) or hotel in each of the places marked with a red pin on my map. Gas stations aren’t frequent, but can been found in most of the villages and towns on this route.

*WARNING: Police and army personnel patrol much of the border territory on this route. When it comes to the authorities, the biggest challenge is the road near the Chinese border, which links Muong Te with Muong Nhe, with a side route to A Pa Chai, the point where Vietnam, Laos, and China meet. In fact, parts of this road are so sensitive that it doesn’t appear on most maps (I’ve tried my best to draw it on my map in black). If you choose to take this road, it’s highly advisable to seek permission in Muong Te or Muong Nhe before attempting to do so.

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ROUTE MAP:

The Extreme Northwest: Lai Cao→Sapa→Dien Bien Phu | 3 Routes

Blue line: 800-900km | Green line: 400km | Red line: 310km

View in a LARGER MAP

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IMAGE GALLERY:

The following images are all taken along the Extreme Northwest Loop between Lao Cai and Dien Bien Phu, via the three routes outlined on my map. Read the captions below each image to find out exactly where they were taken.


Lai Chau Province, northwest VietnamA rainbow in the mountains between Sin Ho & Muong Lai on Road QL12, Lai Chau Province


The Black River, Dien Bien Province, northwest VietnamThe flooded valley of the Black River, near Muong Lai at the junction of Road QL12


The road to the Extreme Northwest, Dien Bien Province, VietnamRoad QL4H meandering through the mountains between Cha Cang & Muong Nhe, Dien Bien Province


The Black River valley, Dien Bien Province, northwest VietnamRoad QL12 echoing the course of the Nam Na River, seen from the road to Muong Te


A1 Hill, Dien Bien Phu, northwest VietnamVietnamese visitors relax next to a tank on top of A1 Hill, site of the battle for Dien Bien Phu, spring 1954


Mountain road, Lai Chau Province, northwest VietnamThe spectacular Road DT128 winds up the mountains between Lai Chau & Sin Ho


Passing a landslide, Lai Chau Province, northwest VietnamMy parents passing through a landslide on the Black River road between Muong Te & Muong Lay


The Black River, Dien Bien Province, northwest VietnamThe wide, muddy Black River, swelled by the construction of hydroelectric dams near Muong Lay


Mountain road, Lai Chau Province, northwest VietnamThe empty & remote road between Phong Tho & Muong Te, passing through endless mountain scenery


Mountain road, Lai Chau Province, northwest VietnamExtreme switchbacks on the road to Muong Te, making progress slow but the views are stunning


Rice terraces, Lai Chau Province, northwest VietnamTerraced rice fields on the mountainsides descending Road DT128 from Sin Ho to Muong Lay


Mountain road, Lai Chau Province, northwest VietnamThe new road cut into the hillside along the Black River valley, between Muong Te & Muong Lay


Rain, cloud, mist, Lai Chau Province, northwest VietnamA passing shower in the mountains & forests of remote Dien Bien Province


O Quy Ho (Tram Ton) Pass, Lai Cai Province, northwest VietnamThe famous O Quy Ho Pass curling around the mountains from Sapa to Lai Chau


Mountaintop, Lai Chau Province, northwest VietnamSitting atop a mountain & taking in the views across the landscapes of Dien Bien & Lai Chau provinces


Mountain landscape, Dien Bien Province, northwest VietnamA remote hamlet on the hillside between Sin Ho & Moung Lay, Lai Chau Province


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Ba Be Lake Homestays http://vietnamcoracle.com/ba-be-lake-homestays/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/ba-be-lake-homestays/#comments Wed, 25 Jul 2018 09:32:56 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23656 At Ba Be Lake, limestone cliffs meet the placid water at right angles, creating a spectacular backdrop to Vietnam’s largest natural lake. On its southern shores, where the terrain is slightly less vertical, several dozen homestays offer cheap, atmospheric accommodation & excellent home-cooked food.... Continue reading

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First published July 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

In one of the most sparsely populated regions of the country, the forest-covered mountains of Bac Kan Province, 200km north of Hanoi, plunge into the clean, clear, cool waters of Ba Be Lake. Limestone cliffs, riddled with cavities, meet the placid water at right angles, creating a spectacular backdrop to Vietnam’s largest natural lake. The setting could hardly by more exotic, more tropical, more romantic. On its southern shores, where the terrain is slightly less vertical, several dozen homestays cater to the increasing number of foreign and domestic travellers who visit this area. Constructed on the lake shore or on raised stilts above the water, these homestays offer cheap, atmospheric accommodation and excellent home-cooked food (and plenty of local liquor, too). Spending a couple of nights at a homestay while exploring Ba Be Lake – swimming, kayaking, hiking – is a very rewarding travel experience. There are lots of Ba Be Lake homestays to choose from, but, in this guide, I have picked three that I particularly like: Mr Linh’s, Hai Dang, and Hoa Son.

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Ba Be Lake homestays, Bac Kan Province, VietnamThere are dozens of homestays on the shores of Ba Be Lake: these are three of my favourites

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GUIDE: BA BE LAKE HOME STAYS


CONTENTS:

MAP:

Ba Be Lake Homestays: Mr Linh’s | Hai Dang | Hoa Son

View in a LARGER MAP

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About the Homestays:

The three Ba Be Lake homestays that I’ve reviewed on this page are my favourites, but there are dozens of others, and new ones are opening all the time. (In fact, if the building boom isn’t controlled, it could become a big environmental concern.) I’ve included links and contact details for all three homestays. Booking in advance is advisable if you have your heart set on one of these particular places, because they can be full of weekends and public holidays. Some of the homestays have a range of accommodation options – from dorms beds to private rooms – and prices reflect this. Food and drink is a big part of the experience: guests can usually choose between full-board or half-board. Bear in mind that alternative food and drink options are limited, because there’s no real village nearby. The best time of year to visit is March to October (the winter can get very cold). Plan on staying at least two nights at Ba Be Lake: there’s lots to see and do, most of which can be organized by your homestay host. Transport connections to Ba Be Lake are O.K., with most visitors arriving by bus from Hanoi or by motorbike as part of a northern road trip linking Ha Giang and Cao Bang provinces. Again, your hosts can help arrange transportation to/from the homestays.

*Note: Although on Google Maps it may look as though the homestays are not actually on the lake shore, in reality, if you visit during the summer and autumn months, rainfall will have filled the lake so that it comfortably reaches close to all three of these homestays.

Ba Be Lake homestays, Bac Kan Province, VietnamHomestays have several sleeping options: the cheapest are mattresses on the floor under a mosquito net

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Mr Linh’s Homestay:

On the southwestern shore of Ba Be Lake, reached via a narrow lane winding through rice paddies populated by water buffalo wading knee-deep in the mud, Mr Linh’s Homestay is well-known, well-liked, and well-deserving of its local fame. It’s located away from the main cluster of homestays, at Pac Ngoi village on the southern shores, and as such is quiet, remote, and occupies an idyllic portion of land rising steeply from the lakeshore, surrounded by jungle, with mesmerizing views over the water. Mr Linh and his family run the homestay with the help of local staff, and, despite growing considerably, there’s still a pleasant, family atmosphere, including some adorable dogs. There are several buildings, mostly consisting of wooden houses with palm-thatched roofs and rattan partitions, ascending over several terraces up the hillside. There’s a range of sleeping options and prices, starting with mattresses on the wooden floor under a mosquito net with a shared bathroom for around $8, to private double rooms with en suite bathrooms for up to $35 a night. Because of the range of accommodation, there’s also a range of guests, from budget backpackers to young professional couples and families.

Mr Linh's homestay, Ba Be Lake, VietnamMr Linh’s Homestay is beautifully situated on a rise next to the lake with palm-thatched roofs

Food costs extra: breakfast (consisting of eggs, pancakes, hot soup, fresh fruit, coffee and tea) is around 50,000vnd ($2) per person, and dinner (a large spread of home-cooked dishes, including spring rolls, fresh fish, meat and vegetables according to what’s in season) is between 100,000-200,000vnd ($4-$8) per person. There are loads of activities to choose from at Mr Linh’s, including mountain biking, kayaking on the lake, boat tours to all of Ba Be’s sights, hiking in the jungle, and swimming off their own little boat pier. It’s a glorious setting and, providing the weather is good, you’re likely to have a whale of a time. There are a couple of concerns: At my last visit, there were the ominous signs of larger construction either side of Mr Linh’s, and, due to its popularity among travellers, staff are clearly a bit overworked and tired of dealing with the demands and expectations of their guests. Mr Linh’s isn’t really a small, family home anymore: it’s turning into a larger-scale accommodation, more akin to an ‘eco-resort’. There also seems to be some kind of bad blood/family feud between the management of Mr Linh’s Homestay and Hai Dang Homestay. I gather they are part of the same family and now run rival businesses. Be warned that a kind of scam appears to exist where, if you call certain phone numbers for Mr Linh’s, the staff will tell you they’re full and recommend Hai Dang instead. This isn’t so bad, because Hai Dang is a good homestay, too. However, if you’re set on Mr Linh’s, don’t take ‘no’ for an answer the first time: try the other phone numbers on their website contact page first. One more thing to note is that during the dry season, November to March, the lake’s waterline retreats and may not reach Mr Linh’s Homestay.

Mr Linh's homestay, Ba Be Lake, VietnamMr Linh’s is beginning to outgrow its homestay status: it’s becoming a kind of mini eco-resort

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Hai Dang Homestay:

  • Contact: ongthaobabe@gmail.com | 0977 799 858 [MAP]
  • Price: $10 private room (excl. food) 

Before reaching the turnoff for Mr Linh’s, a relatively new cluster of homestays lines the lake shore. Known as Bo Lu hamlet, the homestays here tend to use a mix of building materials: concrete, wood and thatch. Although not as pretty as the traditional wooden stilt homes, they are nonetheless quieter and not as cluttered as the main homestay area at Pac Ngoi village. My favourite of the Bo Lu homestays is Hai Dang, mainly because of its three simple, cheap, second floor rooms, which open onto a large covered balcony with panoramic views of the lake, mountains, and farmland. It may lack the aesthetic appeal and waterside location of Mr Linh’s, but the views and the price more than make up for this. There are several other rooms too, but it’s all about getting one of the second floor, lake-view rooms. Accommodation is only around 200,000-250,000vnd ($8) for double occupancy, with a shared bathroom. Food here is also very good: we had ginger-steamed lake fish, fresh sauteed greens from the forest, and fragrant rice. As usual, prices are about 50,000vnd for breakfast, and 100,000-200,000vnd for dinner.

Hai Dang Homestay, Ba Be Lake, VietnamHai Dang Homestay is all about the three rooms on the second floor with this balcony & view

There’s no direct access to the lake from Hai Dang (except after very heavy rainfall, when the flood waters reach the bottom of the homestay). However, it’s only a pleasant 5-minute stroll through farmland to get to the lake shore, where there’s a grassy beach with easy access for swimming. Like all Ba Be Lake homestays, Hai Dang can easily organize boat tours, trekking, and various other sightseeing activities in the area. The three second floor rooms are especially good if you’re travelling in a small group of friends or as a family. When I stayed here, for example, my family and I occupied all three of the second floor rooms and thus had the balcony and the fabulous views all to ourselves. Even on rainy days we could sit outside with a drink, playing cards, and watching the mist and rain sweep up the valley and over the lake. One of the concerns about the increasing number of homestays at Bo Lu is that many of them are built on concrete silts right above the lake. Not only are they beginning to look a bit on an eyesore when seen from the lake, but overcrowding will soon become a problem, and waste might, too.

Boat trip on Ba Be Lake, VietnamBoat trips on Ba Be Lake are great fun & can be arranged through your hosts at most of the homestays

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Hoa Son Homestay:

  • Contact: 0947 150 154 or Book Here[MAP]
  • Price: $5-$15 dorm/private room (excl. food) 

Cheap, friendly, well-organized and clean, Hoa Son is one of the better homestays in the main sprawl centered around Pac Ngoi village, on the southern shore of Ba Be Lake. With dorms starting from $5 a night and private rooms with bathrooms from $10, Hoa Son is good value for money. It’s located across the road from the lake with several wooden structures rising up the hillside. The views from the balconies are great and rooms are tidy and comfortable. It’s large enough to accommodate tour groups, but if you visit on a weekday, outside of public holidays, it should be pretty quiet. Food is good and all lake-related activities are available. Personally, I think the homestay scene at Pac Ngoi village (which began the homestay trend at Ba Be Lake) is becoming too crowded. There are dozens of homestays vying for space; for lake views or lake access. It’s in danger of becoming a bit of a mess, which is what happened to the homestay area at Lac village in Mai Chau.

Home-cooked dinner at a homestay, Ba Be Lake, VietnamFood is a big part of the homestay experience: dinner is a spread of locally-sourced, home-cooked dishes


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like these homestays and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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The Beaches of Quy Nhon & Phu Yen: A Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-beaches-of-quy-nhon-phu-yen-a-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-beaches-of-quy-nhon-phu-yen-a-guide/#comments Thu, 19 Jul 2018 07:36:10 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=25991 The beaches of Phu Yen Province & Quy Nhon have been laying low, but their popularity is on the rise: now is the time to visit this seductive coastal region, full of hidden bays, beaches & coves. This is an extensive guide to Vietnam's next big beach destination.... Continue reading

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First published July 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

The coast of Phu Yen Province and Quy Nhon, in south-central Vietnam, is ripe for exploration. Its potential is extraordinary: An irresistible, honey-combed coastline with long peninsulas, rocky outcrops, dramatic bluffs, forested hills falling to the ocean, secluded bays, arcing beaches, rugged islands, thriving fishing villages, coastal cities, and glistening, calm seas. This coastal region is destined to be an extremely big deal: a star of Vietnam’s beach scene. But, despite a surge of interest in the last few years, the coastline of Phu Yen and Quy Nhon has yet to be developed for mass tourism, and is thus far more serene, local, sparsely populated, and ‘genuine’ than Vietnam’s other ‘beach darlings’, such as Nha Trang and Phu Quoc. As always, the window of opportunity for travel to this region before it inevitably turns to mass tourism is short: already the crowds, the coaches, the cement trucks, and the international resort chains are arriving. If you’re an independent traveller, don’t wait: go now.

The beaches of Quy Nhon & Phu Yen, VietnamThe spectacular coastline of Phu Yen Province & Quy Nhon is ripe for exploration

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GUIDE: PHU YEN & QUY NHON BEACHES


On this page, I’ve written a full and detailed guide to exploring the coastline of Phu Yen and Quy Nhon. I’ve divided this guide into sections, including an extensive list of beaches and bays, accommodation, food and drink, and transportation options, and some historical and geographical context. This guide is written as if travelling from south to north along the coast: starting from the bays south of Tuy Hoa all to way to the beaches north of Quy Nhon. This region is ideal for independent travellers, and by far the best way to explore it is by motorbike, bicycle, or private vehicle. I’ve marked a route on my map which serves as a rewarding road trip for those with their own wheels. However, beach-hopping is also possible by a combination of local buses and taxis. Click on the sections in the contents below for more details:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use the relevant links in the following guide to book your accommodation & transportation in Phu Yen & Quy Nhon, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

CONTENTS:

MAP:

The Beaches & Coastline of Phu Yen & Quy Nhon:


View in a LARGER MAP

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LOCATION & BACKGROUND:

Although steadily gaining ground, Phu Yen and Quy Nhon are still part of Vietnam’s off-the-beaten-path beach scene. It’s a fabulous area that’s just begging to be explored. There’s a still, slow, silent – almost holy – quality to parts of this region. One can imagine it as the setting for ancient parables. Indeed, its character befits its name: Phú Yên means ‘Rich Peace’. And, to some extent, this part of the country is bound up with the history and legend of Vietnam. The Cham Kingdom ruled from the city of Vijaya until the 15th century, and then, in the late 18th century, the Tay Son brothers rose up from near present-day Quy Nhon to overthrow the ruling imperial dynasty; a rebellion that is often portrayed as the precursor to the great nationalist-socialist independence movement of the 20th century, against the French and the Americans.

Nhon Hai beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh Province, VietnamDespite increasing interest, Phu Yen & Quy Nhon are still off-the-beaten-path beach destinations

The popularity of Phu Yen’s and Quy Nhon’s coastline has been rapidly growing over the last few years, especially among domestic travellers. Its reputation was boosted when the Vietnamese movie, Tôi Thấy Hoa Vàng Trên Cỏ Xanh (I See Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass), directed by Victor Vũ and released in 2015, chose Phu Yen as a filming location for much of the movie, including a now-famous beach scene on Bãi Xép. But foreign travellers, too, who traditionally skipped the area on their way between Nha Trang and Hoi An, have started to discover the serene beauty and great beaches of Phu Yen and Quy Nhon. Thus, the area is on the cusp of big changes: several travellers’ enclaves have already sprung up, and investment is starting to pour in for the development of its fabulous beaches. Much like Phu Quoc Island 10-15 years ago, now is the time to visit Phu Yen and Quy Nhon, before the beaches are cordoned off for development and isolated fishing communities fade away.

Bai Rang beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamNow is the time to visit Phu Yen & Quy Nhon, before it’s incredible beaches are inevitably developed

Phu Yen Province is bounded by the Cả Pass to the south and the Cù Mông Pass to the north, over which lies Quy Nhon and the province of Binh Dinh. Although Phu Yen Province is roughly 70% highlands (the mountains in this region reach nearly 1,600m [5,250ft]), it’s the coastline that most people come here for. And this mountainous topography makes those beaches all the more spectacular, as the steep, rocky – sometimes forested – slopes slide into the ocean in dramatic fashion, creating dozens of sheltered bays, rocky coves, and crescents of sand book-ended by rugged outcrops. The Đà Rằng River, the largest in Central Vietnam, flows out to the sea at Tuy Hoa (capital of Phu Yen Province) in a great, gaping estuary. Even when I first travelled here, on my bicycle in 2005, I was struck by the width and scale of this great river mouth. Once it provided a trade route to the interior for the Kingdom of Champa, but now its flow is greatly reduced, partly due to large dams upstream.

Trung Luong beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh Province, VietnamThe topography of Phu Yen & Quy Nhon’s coast is characterized by bays, rugged headlands & lagoons

Phu Yen is a sparsely populated province, and most of the population is involved in agriculture of some kind. Indeed, animals, such as cattle, pigs and chickens, far outnumber people. Quy Nhon city, however, has a population of around 300,000. Part of what makes travel in this region so pleasant, is that local people are particularly friendly to travellers and have an appealingly polite yet informal disposition. The majority are Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese), but there are also pockets of minority ethnic groups, such as the Cham. Quy Nhon was once Thi Nai, an important port during the time of the Cham Kingdom. The ancient Cham capital of Vijaya was located near present-day Quy Nhon from the 11th to the 15th centuries. In 1471, the last of several major wars and battles led to the Vietnamese defeat of Champa. The Côn River flows into the East Sea just north of Quy Nhon, via a large, sheltered lagoon. Again, this was an important trade way for the Chams. These days, a long, raised causeway (at 2.5km it’s the second longest sea bridge in Vietnam) crosses the estuary from Quy Nhon to the Phuong Mai Peninsular. The physical legacy of the Kingdom of Champa can be seen throughout this region in the impossibly exotic (definitely something taken from the set of an Indiana Jones movie) Cham temples, mostly constructed of red brick with very distinctive floral motifs. (Read more about the Cham temples in this region here.)

Banh It Cham towners, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh Province, VietnamThe region was once a centre of Cham culture, whose capital was at Vijaya, near present-day Quy Nhon

Much of the south-central coast is reminiscent of Greece. Indeed, there’s something Homeric about it: the “wooded” Ionian Islands remind me of the eucalyptus-studded coast south of Quy Nhon, and the stark, arid beauty of the Cyclades reminds me of the dry, sand-strewn coast north of Quy Nhon. I travelled regularly to Greece from a young age, and studied its history at university, and I’ve always been struck by the resemblance ever since I first started visiting Vietnam’s coast, in 2005. And, like the Greece that I visited as a child, the south-central coast suffers from coastal pollution. It’s a huge problem all over Vietnam, but on the coast, especially in the fishing villages, it’s at its most shocking. The polystyrene, the plastic, the sewage, the household garbage, the stench: the horror. It’s an appalling mess. Visitors should be aware of this. The beaches that already have some kind of tourist infrastructure are generally kept clean, but once you venture off the beaten path, to secluded bays and fishing hamlets, you need to expect a certain level of trash. These are working beaches, fishing beaches, and fishing is an industry that creates a lot of waste. Hopefully, like Greece, the problem will be addressed soon.

Eo Gio village & beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamMuch of Phu Yen & Quy Nhon’s coastline is reminiscent of Greece, with its pretty fishing villages & bays

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BEACHES, BAYS & ISLANDS:

Below is a list of beaches, bays, islands, and peninsulas in Phu Yen and Quy Nhon. I’ve written a description of each one, as if travelling from south to north along the coast. Each beach is illustrated with a photograph, and all of the places below are marked on my map, as are the roads and lanes to access them (if you have your own wheels). In the descriptions, I’ve included some recommendations of places to eat and drink, but for places to sleep go to my Accommodation section

Click a beach below to read more about it:

Vung Ro Bay & Mon Beach [MAP]

Coastal Phu Yen Province begins at the top of the spectacular Cả Pass. From here, the views down to Vung Ro Bay are glorious. Spreading between green mountains, Vung Ro Bay is a perfect blue lagoon, dotted with fishing boats, floating fish farms, and a handful of cargo ships. From the top of the Cả Pass, a road leads steeply down to the bay and follows the shore. Several floating restaurants (bè nổi) are accessed by boat and serve fresh seafood in wooden structures on the calm waters. Visible to the south of the bay is Hon Nua Island, a rugged little isle with dramatic cliffs on one side and a good beach on the other. It’s possible to charter a boat to the island from the floating seafood restaurants, or from Dai Lanh Beach.

Vung Ro Bay, Phu Yen Province, VietnamVung Ro Bay, seen from the Cả Pass, is a glorious lagoon of blue water surrounded by green hills

Around the eastern headland of Vung Ro Bay lies Bai Mon Beach, a superb parcel of sand wedged between two boulder-strewn hills. Entrance to the beach is 20,000vnd, which includes a trek up the long, winding stairs to Mũi Điện Lighthouse, where there are stupendous views out to sea and down over the beach. Behind the lighthouse is a pylon marking the most easterly point on mainland Vietnam (although this is also claimed by Mũi Đôi on Hon Gom Sandbar). A separate, steeper, staircase leads down from the lighthouse to the beach itself. Cool off from the walk with a swim in the clear, calm waters of Mon Beach. Its popularity is growing, but providing you visit on a weekday outside of the national holidays, the beach shouldn’t be too crowded. There’s a little food shack, Quán Chú Mười, near the entrance, and they can even arrange for a night camping on the sand: see Accommodation for details. (For more information about Vung Ro Bay and Mon Beach see this guide.)

Bai Mon Beach, Vung Ro Bay, Phu Yen, VietnamBai Mon Beach is a parcel of sand wedged between two boulder-strewn hills: the swimming is excellent

Heading north from Mon Beach, the coast road meanders down a strikingly scenic, rocky hillside, giving way to pretty coves and crescents of sand, and a wonderful vista over the long, empty beach of Bai Goc. From here, the sand essentially stretches all the way to Tuy Hoa city (25km), broken only by a couple of river estuaries. There’s no development here yet, but much of the coastline is given over to shrimp farms. Several fishing villages line the road, and the inlets are filled with the blue-painted boats of the local fishing fleet. Most of the road is in excellent condition, much of it brand new as it passes behind Tuy Hoa Airport. All of this, of course, suggests that there are big plans for the future development of this coastal region.

The coast road between Vung Ro Bay & Tuy Hoa, Phu Yen, VietnamA new coast road winds along the ocean from Bai Mon beach to Bai Goc beach, all the way to Tuy Hoa

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Tuy Hoa City & Beach [MAP]

Accessed from the south via an impressively long bridge, Tuy Hoa is a pleasant city on the flood plains of the Da Rang river estuary. Although very few travellers spend any time here, Tuy Hoa’s wide main streets (on an easy to navigate grid system) lead from the bustling city centre to the extensive municipal beach. During the spring and summer months, the beach is excellent for swimming. The newly refurbished beachfront promenade boasts lots of trees, kitsch sculpture parks, and public showers. There’s virtually no one here during the daytime. In town, you can pay a visit to the Thap Nhan Cham temple (dating from the 14th century), tuck into some fresh seafood at the string of local riverfront restaurants, drop into Tuy Hoa Market, and even ride up the helter-skelter lane to the top of Chop Chai Hill for some extraordinary panoramic views. If you’re craving Western food, stop by at Bob’s American Cafe. Accommodation options are good and plentiful. As Tuy Hoa is one of the two cities on this stretch of coast (the other being Quy Nhon), it’s a transport hub for travel within the region and beyond. Connections by rail, road, and air are all good – see Getting There & Around for details.

Tuy Hoa beach, Tuy Hoa city, Phu Yen Province, VietnamTuy Hoa is a likable city with a long, wide, empty beach, yet very few foreign visitors stop here

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Long Thuy Beach [MAP]

Heading north on Le Duan Street along the coast from Tuy Hoa, past the concrete skeletons of huge resorts under construction, small lanes lead off the road to Long Thuy, a little fishing village at the northern end of what is essentially Tuy Hoa Beach. Long Thuy is notable for its interesting narrow backstreets, lined with crumbling homes, small temples, and cowsheds. Although the beach here is nice, it’s currently undergoing renovations: the construction of a seafront promenade. From the beach, it’s possible to charter boats out to Hon Chua and Hon Dua islands, lying just offshore. There are a couple of seafront restaurants and mini-hotels on the seafront (see Accommodation). For more about Long Thuy Beach see this guide.

Long Thuy beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamLong Thuy is an interesting fishing village with a decent beach & a warren of narrow alleyways

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Bai Xep Beach & Ong Cliff [MAP]

Follow the back-roads just north of Long Thuy village. A network of narrow lanes leads through a cluster of fishing communities gathered beside a long beach. The small, cramped houses are so tightly packed that there isn’t any easy access to the beach. But when the lane turns to concrete slabs and leads over a hill, the space suddenly opens up, and Bai Xep Beach comes into view. Famous among Vietnamese film buffs as the location for the 2015 movie, Tôi Thấy Hoa Vàng Trên Cỏ Xanh (I See Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass), this is a lovely little beach of white sand, bookended by rocky bluffs. A sign with images from the movie announces your arrival at the entrance to the beach (there’s a small admission fee). A pathway leads down to the sand, where a thatched structure offers food, drinks, sun-loungers, and beach toys for fairly reasonable prices. Walking trails head to the top of the cliff, known as Ganh Ong, at the north end of the beach, from where there are beautiful views over the coastline. The swimming and general setting of Bai Xep are very nice indeed, but it can get very busy on weekends and public holidays with domestic tour groups, and trash is, predictably, becoming a problem.

Bai Xep beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamBai Xep is a pretty beach that was a filming location for Tôi Thấy Hoa Vàng Trên Cỏ Xanh (2015)

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Mui Yen Cape & Yen Beach [MAP]

Continuing north of Bai Xep Beach, the road veers slightly to the east, as it begins to follow a long and topographically complex peninsula, created by an inlet and a large lagoon. The unique and interesting terrain in this area is partly a result of ancient volcanic eruptions, which pushed rivers of molten lava down towards the sea. There are lots of interesting rock formations, cliffs, hidden coves, and wonderful beaches around here. By taking a series of small, paved lanes east toward the sea, you’ll eventually come to Mũi Yến, a beautiful and very peaceful spot at the tip of a headland which almost touches Hòn Yến, a rocky islet comprised of geometric volcanic rock formations. Mui Yen has a few local cafes, some with hammocks under tropical almond trees, where you can swing in the sea breeze, drinking a coconut while taking in the views over the picturesque coastal scene. Swimming and snorkeling are both good here, but be careful of sharp rocks. It’s possible to practically walk over to Hon Yen Islet, but the cafes can also arrange for a coracle to row you across. Surrounding the cape there are fishing boats and lobster cages. It’s a really lovely little spot: there’s something timeless and poetic it. A small shrine sits atop the sandy cape, below which a collection of Chinese-style circular tombs cluster around the volcanic rocks leading down to the sea, watched over by the black wall of rock on Hon Yen Islet. On the lane just before reaching Mui Yen Cape, there are a couple of good bánh bèo stalls (little dishes of savoury rice flour curd; a speciality of Central Vietnam).

Mui Yen cape, Phu Yen Province, VietnamThe cape of Mui Yen is a quiet & atmospheric place, defined by the volcanic rock outcrops offshore

Just around the north side of Mui Yen Cape, accessed via more narrow lanes, is Yen Beach, a long, gorgeous sweep of sand between two volcanic cliffs. It’s a stunning setting, and as yet there’s no development whatsoever. Lap it up while you still can, because this beach has ‘International Luxury Hotel Chain’ written all over it. There are a couple of access points to the beach: one of them leads to a giant old tropical almond tree growing by a village temple, where women and children gather in the shade to eat and sell street snacks in the afternoons, while the fishermen tend to their nets on the sand. The swimming all along Yen Beach is marvellous.

Mui Yen beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamThe beach on the north side of Mui Yen Cape is gorgeous & completely undeveloped

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An Hai Beach & Mai Nha Islet [MAP]

More quiet, rural back-roads wind over a volcanic bluff jutting into the sea north of Yen Beach. Potholes mark the road surface as it passes through isolated farming and fishing communities. Haystacks, arranged in pylons, lie by the roadside with cattle munching at them, while children play in the sandy front yards of small, brick and red-tile-roofed homes. At An Hai village there’s a sizable fishing fleet moored offshore, with the smaller vessels drawn up on the sand. Good beaches spread either side on the small headland here, stretching for kilometres in both directions. The beach on the north side is cleaner and calmer, with a few fishermen’s homes by the water, several fishing canoes, lobster cages on the beach, and a collection of large, smooth boulders. On the southern beach, by the village, you can hire a boat to take you across to Cu Lao Mai Nha Islet, a rugged but green isle just across the water. Another back-road heads inland north of the village to a new bridge across an inlet, where there are lots of floating restaurants serving good seafood. This makes a convenient lunch stop. West of here, Dam O Loan Lagoon is worth exploring if you have some extra time. If not, continue over the bridge and along the straight road through casuarina trees towards the volcanic cliffs of Da Dia.

An Hai beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamAn Hai beach & fishing village lies opposite Cu Lao Mai Nha Islet, which can be reached by boat

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Da Dia Cliffs & Beach [MAP]

Ganh Da Dia is a hook of land at the northern tip of the long peninsula which starts just above Tuy Hoa. Accessed via a series of pretty country roads, some of which are currently in quite poor condition, the volcanic cliffs of Da Dia are a popular attraction for domestic road-trippers and tour groups. Despite getting very busy on weekends and public holidays, there’s generally only a trickle of visitors on the weekdays. Like much of the topography in this region, the cliffs of Da Dia were formed when a volcanic eruption caused a river of molten lava to run downhill to the sea, where it met the cooler temperatures of the water and became the solid, eerily geometric rock formations that it’s now famous for. When I first visited, about 10 years ago, there was nothing here but the cliffs themselves. These days, however, an entrance gate has been erected (and an entrance fee charged: 20,000vnd), a plank walkway constructed around the rock formations, and a parking lot to accommodate all the coaches and cars. It’s a fairly untidy sprawl of temporary food and drink shacks, souvenir stalls, and piles of trash. However, the setting is still very scenic and the cliffs are impressive, so it’s definitely worth the trip.

Ganh Da Dia rock formations, Phu Yen Province, VietnamThe Da Dia cliffs were formed when a volcanic eruption caused molten lava to run downhill to the sea

Da Dia Beach, stretching south of the cliffs, is a gorgeous sweep of sand. It’s good for bathing, and there are a few food and drink shacks along its shores. North of the cliffs, a paved pathway leads across a grassy, boulder-strew coastline to a Ganh Den Lighthouse. An attractive and peaceful spot with views over the bay, this has become a selfie-trap for many young Vietnamese travellers. I camped here with my friends, overlooking the jagged shoreline, back in 2008. Sadly, there’s now quite a lot of trash lying around: polystyrene food containers, beer cans, soda bottles. It’s such a shame, because the groups of young people here seem to take such pleasure in their natural surroundings, only to leave their litter behind.

Da Dia beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamStretching south of the rock formations, Da Dia beach is a beautiful sweep of sand & clear water

The cliffs of Da Dia are easily accessed from the south or west via decent roads, but there are also two interesting alternative routes in either direction (see the red lines on my map). From the south, it’s possible to cut through An Ninh Dong hamlet and over the hill, ending up on Da Dia Beach. However, there’s a small section of off-road involved: it should be fine in dry weather, but best avoided in wet conditions. From the northwest, a long wooden-plank and bamboo bridge (two wheeled vehicles only: 5,000vnd toll) crosses the Phu Ngan river estuary from Highway QL1A. On the other side, there’s a short section of muddy road before a good, paved road leads through rice paddies and eventually joins the main route to Da Dia Cliffs.

The lighthouse at Ganh Da Dia, Phu Yen Province, VietnamNorth of the Da Dia cliffs, a lane leads to Ganh Den lighthouse, perched on a rocky headland

The villages that dot the extensive cultivated plain between Da Dia and Chi Thanh, on Highway QL1A, serve some good street food in the afternoons, including bánh xèo (savoury rice flour pancakes). There’s also a mysterious old citadel near Chi Thanh, between the north bank of the Phu Ngan River and Highway QL1A. The scant remains of An Tho Citadel (dating from the early 19th century) can be seen at the museum at the centre of the moated, walled enclosure. There’s not much to see, but there’s an appealingly calm, forgotten atmosphere to the place, and it’s very lush.

Thanh An Tho citadel, Phu Yen Province, VietnamBetween the Da Dia cliffs & Highway QL1A, Thanh An Tho citadel is an interesting little excursion

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Ganh Do Beach, Song Cau & Xuan Dai Bay [MAP]

After the bamboo bridge over the Phu Ngan River, join Highway QL1A heading north along the coast. This section of Vietnam’s infamous main artery is one of the most scenic of its entire length, passing a honeycombed coast of cliffs and bluffs, mountains and lagoons, islands and bays. From here all the way to Quy Nhon, Highway QL1A/1D is in great condition. But remember, despite the scenery, this is still the notorious Highway 1 where trucks roar past without a care for smaller vehicles, and long distance coaches cut the bends at ferocious speeds: ride carefully. The first beach along this section of the highway is Ganh Do, a long, arcing spit of sand. At its northern end are a few places to stay or stop for a drink and a swim.

Ganh Do beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamAfter joining Highway QL1A, via a long bamboo bridge, the road passes by Ganh Do beach

Before a steep pass leading over to Song Cau, there’s an optional back-road (see the red line on my map) that rounds a headland via a scruffy fishing village where there’s a jetty with boats to take you across the water to Nhat Tu Son Island. It only takes a couple of minutes to make the crossing and there’s a small beach on the rocky, green island. If the weather is good, it’s a worthwhile excursion. However, riding the road along the harbourfront here serves as a disturbing reminder of how out of control the waste-disposal situation is in Vietnam’s thousands of fishing communities: the mess is biblical. The volume of polystyrene boxes (for packaging fish in ice) and the viscosity of the black seawater is shocking. It’s the same story all along Vietnam’s coastline, and one wonders how anything can survive in these polluted waters. It’s a reminder that fishing is a messy (and big) business, and that fishermen in Vietnam are amongst the poorest people in the country. What the future holds for the people (and the fish) in communities like this, and how the ocean can cope, remains to be seen.

Trash in the sea near Song Cau fishing village, Phu Yen Province, VietnamFishing is a messy industry, and the build up of trash in some of the fishing villages is shocking

Song Cau, in the middle of a great bay, is a fishing town through and through. It’s large fleet of wooden boats lies at anchor in the vast, flat, glassy Xuan Dai Bay, a scenic location for a fairly scruffy but likable little place. Song Cau’s fish market (chợ cá) is the real deal: a dilapidated structure teeming in the mornings with people and things from the sea. The fishy aroma is almost unbearable, and it’s probably best not to go wearing flip-flops, as the ground is wet, slippery and full of fish guts. If you can stomach it, this genuine fish market is worth a visit. Other than that, Song Cau’s lovely location belies what is a relatively unremarkable town. There’s some interesting architecture here and there: a few Soviet-looking government edifices and some ‘old’ houses, which, in fact, probably only date from the 1970s at most. A spattering of decent street food stalls, especially around the main square, offer up some good snacks, like nem nướng (grilled pork wrapped in rice paper rolls), and fresh sea snails (ốc xào) in lemongrass, chilli and garlic. There’s a catholic churches, a handful of Buddhist pagodas, and some accommodation options, too.

Snails for sale in Song Cau, Phu Yen Province, VietnamSong Cau is a large, quite interesting fishing town: these are sea snails on sale in the main square

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Xuan Thinh Peninsular: Bai Om, Tu Nham & Vinh Hoa Beaches [MAP]

Opposite Song Cau, the Xuan Thinh Peninsular curls eastward and then south into the East Sea. A small road runs along most of the western and eastern sides of the peninsular, creating a scenic loop. Both roads can be accessed via concealed turn-offs from Highway QL1 (see the red lines on my map). This finger of land hides some extraordinary beaches and coves, none of which are currently developed. It’s ripe for exploration. On the western edge, the lane runs alongside the glassy waters of Xuan Dai Bay, facing the fishing town of Song Cau. The road, which consists of alternating sections of paved and dirt surfaces, is lined with coconut palms for much of the way, and offers access to isolated fishing communities, many of which farm lobster and shrimp. The setting is extremely picturesque, and there are several interesting local shrines and temples. But, as mentioned before, fishing is an industry that produces a lot of waste: in an enclosed, placid bay such as this, it won’t be long before it’s completely out of control. There appears to be very little awareness about waste in these isolated hamlets (although, again, there are government signs about it). Everything gets thrown in the water: plastic, chemicals, glass. These are fairly poor communities and people are just trying to make a living from the sea as best they can, but surely they won’t be able to sustain it much longer if the water pollution continues in this way. In general, the trash builds up in the waters that front the villages: away from these communities, the water is still good for swimming.

Xuan Dai Bay, Xuan Thinh Peninsular, Phu Yen Province, VietnamThe western side of Xuan Thinh Peninsular fronts the placid, serene Xuan Dai Bay, full of fishing coracles

Near the tip of the peninsular, a couple of small lanes lead down to very remote hamlets in stunning locations. The setting is pretty but life in the narrow warren of alleys on the polluted bay doesn’t look great. The holy grail of the entire area, Bai Om is a secluded beach of powdery sand perfectly pocketed between two rugged headlands and backed by coconut palms, right at the tip of the peninsular. I would imagine that, one day, Bai Om will be the jewel in the crown of Phu Yen Province, developed, no doubt, by some exclusive and astronomically-priced resort company. But, for now, it’s empty. However, sections of the bay are used as a trash dump by the local community, so expect some plastic bags, glass beer bottles, and soda cans. It strikes me that the logistics exists to bring these products – the colas, the potato chips, the lagers – in to remote communities like this, but not out again once they’ve been consumed.

Bai Om beach, Xuan Thinh Peninsular, Phu Yen Province, VietnamAt the tip of Xuan Thinh Peninsular, Bai Om is a gorgeous, secluded pocket of sand, still undeveloped

A small road bisects the peninsular almost at the halfway point. Leading from west to east, the road rises sharply through eucalyptus trees, over sand dunes, and down onto the casuarina tree-lined beach of Tu Nham. On this side of the peninsular, the number of empty sand beaches is absurd: they stretch out in all directions, lined with palms and backed by wooded hills. Several scruffy but fascinating villages dot the bays and beaches: it’s worth setting aside at least half a day to explore the area. Again, these are mostly working beaches, so you’ll have to accept the trash. The tourist potential is huge, but for now there are only a couple of places to stay, all located on Vinh Hoa Beach, at the northeastern end of the peninsular. There isn’t much in the way of food and drink on Xuan Thinh Peninsular, but during meal times street food stalls pop up in the villages, as do local rice eateries.

Vinh Hoa beach, Xuan Thinh Peninsular, Phu Yen Province, VietnamThe eastern side of Xuan Thinh Peninsular is spoiled for beaches: arcing sands stretch in all directions

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Vinh Cuu Peninsular: Bai Tu Nham 2, Bai Tram & Bai Nom Beaches [MAP]

After rejoining Highway QL1A from the Xuan Thinh Peninsular, there’s yet another concealed turn onto a small lane, which leads to yet another astonishingly beautiful area of empty, undeveloped coast. Again, it’s possible to turn this excursion into a loop by threading a few back-roads together (see the red lines on my map). Turning east off the highway (near where all the roadside shops sell rượu cá ngựa – seahorse liquor), several quiet, paved lanes skirt the waterfront. Eventually, a new bridge leads over the Cu Mong Lagoon to Vinh Cuu Peninsular. Jutting south, two small fishing communities, Hoa Thanh and Hoa Loi, spread along both sides of this narrow finger of land. The west side fronts the lagoon, with lots fishing activity, including floating fish farms, shrimp nurseries, and lobster cages, as well as hundreds of small wooden fishing vessels and coracles. Looking back across the lagoon towards the mainland, forested mountains rise into the blue sky.

Fishing boats & coracles, Vinh Cuu Peninsular, Phu Yen Province, VietnamVinh Cuu Peninsular is yet another remote, beautiful, beach-strewn headland to explore

On the east side of the peninsular, a long, continuous beach, (confusingly called Tu Nham, the same as the long beach on Xuan Thinh Peninsular), stretches all the way to the tip of the headland. There’s no development here, just a couple of cafes, seafood shacks, and some fishing trash. Follow the road all the way to the tip, beyond the vast cemetery, and you’ll find a stunning crescent sand beach at the mouth of the Cu Mong Lagoon. Unfortunately, it’s marred by fishing trash, but you can be sure that, one day, people will be paying hundreds of dollars a night for the privilege on staying on this beach.

Crescent beach, Vinh Cuu peninsular, Phu Yen Province, VietnamAt the southern tip of Vinh Cuu Peninsular, this crescent beach is completely empty & undeveloped

The fishing hamlets on Vinh Cuu Peninsular are noticeably more affluent than those on Xuan Thinh Peninsular. In fact, they are beautiful little places: tidy, well-kept, calm, and very peaceful. Tucked away in a network of tight concrete lanes under towering coconut palms, the homes of fishing families stand on the sandy ground, awash with bougainvillea, allamanda flowers, and mango trees. Some of the homes are very pretty little villas from the 1970s, with wooden shutters and gated entrances. Family tombs, ancestor shrines, and Buddhist temples dot the hamlets. There’s a small fish market in Hoa Loi, where you can buy lobster straight off the boat for 750,000vnd ($30) a kilo, which will get you about three of them.

Fishing boat, Vinh Cuu Peninsular, Phu Yen Province, VietnamThe fishing villages on Vinh Cuu Peninsular are very attractive with a pleasant, laid-back atmosphere

Heading north from Hoa Thanh village takes you to the turn for Bai Tram Resort. This exclusive place opened years ago, but is now closed for a major expansion. The beach here is superb, but no longer accessible. Continue northwest on the lane as it follows the shore of the lagoon and then heads inland over sand dunes before turning east to the remote hamlet of Hoa An, at the northern tip of the peninsular. This settlement is an assemblage of concrete dwellings accessed via extremely tight passageways: it’s enough to induce claustrophobia. There are beaches on either side of the hamlet, but Bai Nom, on the south side, is the most spectacular. A wedge of powdery white sand between two rocky headlands, the swimming here is great. There also are a couple of places in the village which can arrange boats out to Cu Lao Xanh Island. Although there aren’t many dining options on Vinh Cuu Peninsular, all the villages have a few street food stalls in the mornings and afternoons.

Bai Nom beach, Vinh Cuu Peninsular, Phu Yen Province, VietnamBai Nom beach, near Hoa An hamlet, is a great place for a swim, and there’s no one else here

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Xuan Hai, Bai Rang, Bai Bau & Bai Bang Beaches [MAP]

Just before crossing the Cu Mong Lagoon, Highway QL1 splits: one branch heads around the western shore of the lagoon, the other follows the eastern shore. The latter is Highway QL1D, which continues along a spectacular coastline all the way north to Quy Nhon (25km), via several excellent beaches, coves, bays, and islands. Beach hopping here is great fun. The first beach along QL1D is Xuan Hai. This exceptionally long sweep of sand stretches for 1okm, from Xuan Hai village in the north to Xuan Hoa village in the south. Even though very few travellers actually stop and bathe here, Xuan Hai beach is one of the most photographed in the Quy Nhon area. This is because of the gorgeous view afforded of it from the side of Highway QL1D as it curls up the hill north of the beach, opening up a vista down its entire length, with a fleet of coracles and fishing boats pulled up on the sand in the foreground. You can access the beach by taking a steep lane down from Highway QL1D just north of Xuan Hai village (see the red line on my map).

Xuan Hai beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamXuan Hai beach is one of the most photographed in the area, thanks to this view from Highway QL1D

North from Xuan Hai beach, Highway QL1D meanders along a glorious and complex coastline of rocky coves, outcrops, and fingers of rugged land that meet ocean like a spread hand, between which crescents of white sand create perfect secluded beaches. Seen from the road, Bai Rang is a ludicrously picturesque beach of golden sand backed by coconut palms. From the highway, a small paved lane leads down to the beach, which still retains a very local feel. There’s no real tourist development here: just a seafood eatery, a few hammocks, and shower stalls. Stop by for a swim and a bite to eat. (For much more about Bai Rang take a look at this guide.)

Bai Rang beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamBai Rang beach is a lovely sandy cove, easily accessed from the main road & with a local atmosphere

Highway QL1D continues north from Bai Rang, sweeping along the coast beneath the impressive, forested slopes of what looks to be an extinct volcano. The next beach is Bai Bau, a beautiful double cove split in two by a rocky headland. At the moment, only the southern cove is accessible, because the northern beach was closed for renovations at the time of writing (June 2018). Accessed via steep lanes, the rocky cove gives way to a spit of white sand surrounded by cashew and mango trees. It’s a beautiful, enclosed little beach, that feels like it’s all your own. The swimming is excellent and staying here is a great option, especially for budget travellers (see Accommodation for details).

Coastal Highway QL1D, Phu Yen Province, VietnamHighway QL1D runs along a scenic coastline under the forested peaks of extinct volcanoes

The next beach along, Bai Bang boasts another attractive arc of sand backed by trees. Unfortunately, parts of the seafront are a bit of a mess at the moment (June 2018) due to the planting of large drainage pipes and the renovation of Hong An Resort, which will soon reopen as Chu Village, complete with some kind of race track (beware noise pollution). However, you can still access Bai Bang at its northern end by taking the lane marked ‘Bai Bang’, where you can buy a drink and have a swim. The lovely beach here is packed with floating lobster farms. There are a couple of accommodation options on Bai Bang.

Bai Bau beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamThe southern bay of Bai Bau is a fantastic little beach & home to Life’s A Beach Backpackers

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Bai Xep Beach & Cu Lao Xanh Island [MAP]

Continuing northwards up the coast on Highway QL1D, Bai Xep Beach is only 10km from Quy Nhon. Although there’s been a steady drip of visitors to Bai Xep for many years, it’s only in the last few that numbers have risen dramatically, and there’s a real buzz about Bai Xep right now. It’s easy to see why: Bai Xep is a double bay bisected by a wedge of land: the south side is the bathing and leisure beach; the north side is the working and fishing beach. Bai Xep hamlet, which is a tangle of tight alleyways, has retained a local feel, and local life continues much as it did before the arrival of foreign and domestic tourists. There’s still some local street food in the narrow alleys and the fishermen still enjoy their seafood-and-beer sessions in the evenings, with karaoke playing into the night. Having said that, the hostels and resorts are increasing at speed, rapidly encroaching – literally bearing down, in some cases – on the village. The alleyways nearest the beach are awash with English-language signs for ‘Laundry’, ‘Western Dishes’, and ‘Boat Trips’. But it’s also fairly harmonious: some of the budget digs have taken residence is old local homes, which are now given a new lease of life (as opposed to the higher-end resorts, which tend to bulldoze everything in their way and then build something new which claims to echo local culture). Also, local people make up a good percentage of the service staff here.

Bai Xep beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamBai Xep is a pretty, sheltered bay that’s home to a cool little budget-mid-range travellers’ scene

The budget scene on Bai Xep is undeniably cool, trailblazing, and extremely good value for money. Travellers to Bai Xep can get their cocktails, espressos, home-cooked meals (European and Asian), beautiful beach, and slice of local life – it’s all right here, right now: this is Bai Xep’s time. But one wonders how long it will stay this way. All around the hamlet, land has been cleared for the construction of huge resorts and residences. Enjoy it while you can. There’s a great range of accommodation in all price categories, most of which have excellent bars and restaurants with sea views (see Accommodation for details). And, lying offshore is the long, rocky island of Cu Lao Xanh, which most accommodations can arrange a boat trip to. The water on the island is superb, and there’s good coral, too.

Bai Xep beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamBai Xep’s popularity is growing all the time, and with it bigger, smarter resorts are popping up

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Quy Hoa Village & Hoang Hau Beach [MAP]

Highway QL1D continues north from Bai Xep along the coast, until the road veers inland behind Quy Hoa village and beach. There’s a good view of the beach from the road as you round the cape, with its long, casuarina-lined sands stretching towards a rugged headland. Take the wide new road leading east off the highway to Quy Hoa village and beach (see the red line on my map). There’s easy access to the beach along the seafront road. It’s a pretty spot which is empty during the daytime but pleasantly bustling during the late afternoons, when locals make the short trip from Quy Nhon to bathe in the sea and play on the sand. In the southern corner of the bay, the enormous, hyper-modern, and very unexpected International Center for Interdisciplinary Science & Eduction (ICISE) looks (and sounds) like something out of a Dan Brown novel.

Quy Hoa beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamQuy Hoa village fronts a good beach lined with casuarina trees: there’s a great view of it from the road

But the most fascinating aspect of visiting this area is the village itself. Quy Hoa was a leprosy hospital, established by French Christian missionaries in the 1920s, and still functioning, to some extent, today. (Leprosy in Vietnam is now fully contained and under control: most all of the patients here today were admitted long ago). The grounds are expansive, peaceful, beautiful, and fascinating. Although it might not sound like it, wandering around the grounds (which is also a local village, inhabited by generations of the families of former patients) is both an interesting and contemplative experience. Quy Hoa is an aesthetically appealing place: very lush with wide, tree-lined avenues dotted with statues of Christian icons. There are hospital buildings dating from French colonial times, houses from the 1960s, churches, cemeteries, and the tomb of a Vietnamese mystic poet, Han Mac Tu, who died of leprosy here in 1940. The long, palm-fringed sandy beach, lined with the sculpted busts of famous doctors from history, is a beautiful backdrop. Patients walk and work around the grounds – you can stop and have a chat (if you speak some Vietnamese or have a guide as translator with you), and people are very warm and welcoming. It’s a strange, time-capsule of a village. Indeed, it reminds me of Con Son town, in the Con Dao Archipelago. And that makes me think: Con Son was a town built under French colonial rule to facilitate the imprisonment, torture and execution of political prisoners during colonial rule; Quy Hoa was a town built under French colonial rule to facilitate the treatment and research of a terrible illness affecting many Vietnamese. Two different (but also overlapping) sides of empire, I suppose: the political and the religious.

Quy Hoa village, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamQuy Hoa village, a leprosy hospital established by French missionaries, is a fascinating place to wander

Separating Quy Hoa village and Quy Nhon city, the Ghenh Rang bluff protrudes into a calm bay. A rocky hill covered in eucalyptus trees, Ghenh Rang is a local tourist spot: Quy Nhon residents come to the rocky cove here, called Bãi Hoàng Hậu (Queen’s Beach), to bathe. However, it’s nothing like as appealing as the other beaches nearby. A walkway leads around the bluff, linking Quy Hoa and Quy Nhon. Or, if you’ve got wheels, you can weave around the headland on small roads and down into Quy Nhon (see the red line on my map).

Quy Hoa village, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamQuy Hoa village is a peaceful, friendly, atmospheric & contemplative place to while away a couple hours

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Quy Nhon City & Beach [MAP]

Quy Nhon is one of Vietnam’s most pleasant coastal cities. There’s none of the razzmatazz and tourist mayhem of Nha Trang, and none of the hideous, mega-scale development of Danang. Quy Nhon is simply a Vietnamese city by the sea. There’s a great, long, wide municipal beach, amazing seafood, a good range of accommodation options, lively boulevards and buzzing back-streets. In short, there’s a lot to like about Quy Nhon. And yet, it still only receives a trickle of foreign visitors (although it’s now very popular with Vietnamese travellers). Things are bound to change, of course: already the cranes are busy pulling high-rise apartments and hotels up from their foundations, and it seems inevitable that Quy Nhon, and it’s surrounding beaches, will become one to the stars of Vietnam’s beach scene. For now, there’s an intoxicating, optimistic, happy and playful mood to this city. I’ve always loved it, ever since I first visited on my bicycle in 2005. Most travellers who make it here are charmed by Quy Nhon, and it’s a good place to base yourself to explore the city, the outlying beaches and islands, and Cham towers.

Quy Nhon beach, Binh Dinh Province, VietnamQuy Nhon is a lively city with a good municipal beach and plenty of food & accommodation options

As the capital of Binh Dinh Province, transportation connections to/from Quy Nhon are good, and most travellers to the region will end up spending at least one night in the city. There’s plenty do during your stay. The municipal beach spreads between the Ghenh Rang bluff in the south to the mouth of the Thi Nai lagoon in the north. Its wide sands and calm waters are well-used by locals in the mornings and late afternoons, but during the day it’s empty. The seafront S-Blue Cafe and Surf Bar 1 & 2 are the places to go for sunset cocktails on the beach. Xuan Dieu street runs along the northern half of the city beach. The seafront promenade here is lined with juice and smoothie vendors from late afternoon, and in the evenings some of the best seafood in Vietnam is served at many of the informal restaurants lining the street. My personal favourite is Út Tèo, and I thoroughly recommend a seafood feast here one night. Later in the evening, the T.O.P Pub is a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike: the drinks flow until midnight.

Statue of Binh Dinh martial artist, Quy Nhon, VietnamQuy Nhon’s seafront promenade is quiet during the day but packed with food & people at night

Quy Nhon has a decent and growing cafe culture. Sample the range of coffee shops in the ‘Cafe Quarter‘, at the intersection of Do Doc Bao, Hoang Dieu, and Pham Ngoc Thach streets. Apart from seafood, Quy Nhon has a lively street food scene. One of the dishes it’s famous for is bún cá, a spicy fish soup. You can find it all over the city, but Ngoc Lien is a firmly established local favourite. To really explore the street food in this city, head to Ngoc Han Cong Chua street in the evening, which is buzzing with food stalls.

Street food scene in Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh Province, VietnamQuy Nhon has a great street food scene: check out the stalls on Ngoc Han Cong Chua Street

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Phuong Mai Peninsular: Nhon Hai, Eo Gio & Ky Co Beaches [MAP]

Across the Thi Nai Lagoon from Quy Nhon, via one of the longest causeways in the country, the Phuong Mai Peninsular is a wide, rugged, sand-swept area with some of the most amazing coastal scenery anywhere in Vietnam. Ever since the new QL19B road opened several years ago, people have slowly been discovering this strikingly beautiful promontory. As access has gotten better, so more and more previously hidden beaches have opened to visitors. Despite some major investments, tourist development is still in its infancy. But all the infrastructure is already in place, meaning you can get to almost all the beaches and islets in this region. Crowds are large on weekends and holidays, but other than that, visitor numbers are reasonable and general cleanliness is good. But it’s on the cusp: this year (2018) in particular has seen a surge of social media buzz about the beaches of Phuong Mai Peninsular.

Eo Gio, Phuong Mai Peninsular, Quy Nhon, VietnamPhuong Mai Peninsular stretches north & east of Quy Nhon, hiding some magnificent beaches & coves

On the right side after crossing the causeway over to the peninsular, Cua Bien (Seagate) is an adventure theme park with a climbing wall, zip line, kayaking on the lagoon and other water-related activities. Continue straight ahead on wide empty roads and turn down a small, concrete lane heading to the southern tip of the peninsular, to Nhon Hai fishing village. A scruffy little place with an end-of-the-line feel, Nhon Hai occupies a fabulous position on a crescent sand bay hemmed in by cliffs, with a couple of rocky islands just off shore. The sea here is an attractive turquoise colour. Boats take visitors on short snorkeling trips to the islands and floating restaurants. A new, elevated road is under construction around the cliffs south of the village, which will eventually lead to the long, white sands of Hai Giang Beach just behind the headland. (Hai Giang can also be reached by road from the north, but at the time of writing the road was in bad condition.) Wandering through the village is interesting, and there are a couple of Buddhist temples. At the southern end of Nhon Hai beach, there’s a good hostel (see Accommodation for details).

Nhon Hai beach, Phuong Mai Peninsular, Quy Nhon, VietnamNhon Hai beach, at the southern tip of the Phuong Mai Peninsular, is a pretty bay & fishing hamlet

The northern end of the peninsular is reached via the wide and empty Highway QL19B, which slices through a sandy, arid landscape. A turn off leads to the hideous and humongous new FLC Resort complex, complete with golf course and safari zoo, probably the first of many such developments in this area. On the other side of the resort, three fishing villages – Eo Gio, Nhon Ly, and Xuong Ly – cluster around the base of a barren outcrop. There are attractive beaches on either side of the headland, where dozens of blue-painted wooden fishing boats lie at anchor. The villages themselves are fascinating and rough around the edges. A tangle of narrow passages weave from one side to the other, like a medieval village. Buddhist pagodas, monuments, and colossal statues dot the villages and hillsides. Pathways criss-cross the arid hills, affording marvellous views. There are plenty of seafood restaurants to choose from here, and it’s very popular with Vietnamese visitors, who come by the busload. But in the tight alleyways, it’s easy to lose the crowds. Personally, I find Xuong Ly, on the south side of the headland, the most attractive and least touristy of the villages. Most people simply refer to the villages and headland as Eo Gio. It’s one of those places that wasn’t on the tourist radar until very recently, and now finds itself the centre of attention for domestic travellers and foreign investors. There’s a fair amount of hassle on the streets by touts, and overcharging of foreign visitors is quite common. Most restaurants and guest houses offer boat trips to the nearby islets, such as Hon Seo, where there’s good snorkeling and bathing.

Xuong Ly, Eo Gio, Quy Nhon, VietnamThe fishing villages of Eo Gio, Nhon Ly & Xuong Ly nestle at the base of a rocky promontory

Probably the most talked about beach in Vietnam right now, Ky Co is a drop-dead gorgeous wedge of white sand between two giant rocky buttresses, which isolate the beach completely. Until recently, it was only possible to access Ky Co by boat (chartered from Eo Gio, Nhon Ly, Xuong Ly or Nhon Hai villages), but now there is an absurdly steep and scenic road running atop the cliffs south of Eo Gio, before descending almost vertically to the beach itself. It’s possible to drive as far as the parking lot, after which you must transfer to a 4×4 for the final descent (or walk). Parking is 5,000vnd; entrance is 60,000vnd; and the transfer is 40,000vnd. But, trust me, it’s worth it. Ky Co justifies the hype it has received over the last year. The first glimpse of it really is jaw-dropping.

The road to Ky Co beach, Quy Nhon, VietnamAn incredibly steep & scenic lane leads along the cliffs to Ky Co beach, offering stunning coastal views

Ky Co is already very popular with domestic tourists, but if you spend the hours between 1-3pm at Ky Co and walk to the far south end of the beach, you should have it largely to yourself. Vietnamese travellers, unlike many Western ones, like to be where the action is: on Ky Co this is at the centre of the bay, where the boats come and go at the pier, photography kiosks take your picture on the sands, a beach restaurant serves food (and techno music), and jet skis can be rented. But stroll further down the beach, and you’ll find it much more peaceful. There are caverns and pretty little coves at the far end, too. The water is perfect for bathing and there are showers, changing rooms, bamboo-and-thatch huts, and a couple of snack outlets. Litter is not yet a problem, because staff are employed to go around constantly picking up the trash that people discard on the beach, and because Ky Co has a no outside food and drink policy. A resort is currently under construction at the northern end of the beach, and change, I guess, is inevitable. This is a sort of ‘soft opening’ for Ky Co: a period of time when anyone can visit, before the luxury resorts take over.

Ky Co beach, Phuong Mai Peninsular, Quy Nhon, VietnamKy Co beach, wedged between two steep, rocky cliffs, has received a lot of attention on social media

The money shot of Ky Co Beach is actually above the bay, before you reach the parking lot. On the ocean side of the road, at the crest of the hill before dropping down to the car park, there’s a communications tower. The ledge here affords a panoramic view down over Ky Co: get your cameras ready.

Ky Co beach, Phuong Mai Peninsular, Quy Nhon, VietnamOne of the best views of Ky Co beach is from the communications tower near the entrance

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Trung Luong Beach & Beyond [MAP]

At the northern end of the empty expressway (QL19B) running the length of the Phuong Mai Peninsular is Trung Luong beach and village. Beautifully situated at the north end of the the long, arcing beach stretching all the way from Eo Gio, Trung Luong is backed by boulder-strewn hills and a gigantic seated Buddha presiding over the entire bay. Walking the hundreds (I didn’t count the exact number) of steps up to the Buddha is great exercise and you’ll be rewarded with astonishing views across the bay, all the way back to Quy Nhon. Below the Buddha, Trung Luong village is a mix of concrete box homes and older, tile-roofed houses from the 1980s. Exploring its backstreets is interesting, especially in the late afternoons when street food is available here and there. The beach itself is very attractive and good for bathing. The new, tasteful Crown Resort is great for a cocktail overlooking the sands (see Accommodation for details).

Trung Luong beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamTrung Luong is a lovely, arcing beach at the northern end of the Phuong Mai Peninsular

From Trung Luong, coastal roads DT640 and DT639 curl along a beautiful stretch of ocean, past some tantalizing beaches and bays. The ride from Trung Luong all the way to Tam Quan (90km), where the road ends as it meets Highway QL1A, is a glorious road trip if you have your own wheels. There’s little in the way of tourist infrastructure, but the scenery is fantastic, the beaches are golden, and the rewards for those who travel it are huge. For a map of this stretch of road and the coast beyond it, all the way to Hoi An and Dong Hoi, take a look at my Coast Road guide.

Trung Luong beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamFrom Trung Luong, coastal back-roads lead northwards along 90km of empty beaches & bays

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ACCOMMODATION:

The following accommodation options are listed as if travelling from south to north along the Phu Yen and Quy Nhon coast; corresponding to the same place names as my list of beaches above. All the accommodation options below are marked on my map. I’ve included everything from guest houses to hotels, resorts to hostels, camping to luxury residences. You can support this website by booking hotels through the links on this page (see below for details).

Click a place name below to read about the accommodation options there:

*Please support this website by using the BOOK HERE links in the hotel listings to reserve your accommodation on the island or by using the search box below. All my reviews are independent and I never receive money in return for writing about a hotel. Thank you.


Vung Ro Bay & Mon Beach [MAP]

Although there’s no real accommodation options in Vung Ro Bay at this time, it is possible to camp on Mon Beach, and this is a great way to spend a night. Just to the right, after going through the entrance gate to Mon Beach and passing the bridge, a little concrete path leads down to a small, corrugated-iron-roofed structure, called Quán Chú Mười. Run by a pleasant Vietnamese couple, two-man tents are available to rent for 100,000vnd ($4) a night. Or, if you have your own tent, you can pitch it for free (you just have to pay the 20,000vnd entrance fee). Depending on the weather conditions, you’re free to make camp anywhere on the grounds, including right on the glorious, wide, golden sands of Mon Beach, next to the sapphire-coloured surf. This is excellent value for budget travellers, and there can be few better located campsites in Vietnam.

Alternatively, Dai Lanh Beach (a short ride south of Vung Ro Bay) has a few good mini-hotels. (Read more about accommodation on Dai Lanh Beach here.)

Bai Mon beach, Vung Ro Bay, it's possible to camp hereIt’s possible to rent a tent & camp on the sands of Bai Mon beach for 100,000vnd ($4)

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Tuy Hoa City & Beach [MAP]

Tuy Hoa has a good range of accommodation options for all budgets. Most of the places to stay are around Hung Vuong Street, which is just a few blocks from the beach. Although there are several hotels right on the beachfront road (Doc Lap Street), they are generally big, soulless edifices, aimed at domestic tour groups. However, a hotel building boom is set to commence on the beach in the near future.

• Kool House: $5-$15; [MAP] – A funky, tasteful, and unexpected place to stay, Kool House is tucked away down a back street. Dorm beds and private rooms are set in an attractive villa with classy, modern furnishings. It’s excellent value for money. If you’re a budget traveller in Tuy Hoa, you shouldn’t need to look any further: [BOOK HERE]

• Budget Mini-Hotels: $10-$20; [MAP] – Hong Ngoc, Thanh Lam, and Thanh Long are all good, clean, cheap mini-hotels with private rooms and bathrooms.

• CenDeluxe Hotel: $60-$100; [MAP] – On weekdays you can stay in this large, plush, business-style hotel on the outskirts of Tuy Hoa for a fairly reasonable rate. The views from the rooms and the rooftop bar and restaurant are fantastic. It’s well-equipped, with modern furnishing, a swimming pool, and decent service. Don’t expect much from the buffet breakfast, though. If this hotel is within your budget for a night, it’s not a bad deal: [BOOK HERE]

• Kaya Hotel & Saigon-Phu Yen Hotel: $40-$70; [MAP] – These two mid-range hotels, aimed largely at domestic tour groups, are both fine for a night if you’re a mid-range traveller. Kaya Hotel looks smart from the outside, but inside it’s beginning to fall apart. The rooms are large with good views and there’s a decent pool [BOOK HERE]. Saigon-Phu Yen Hotel is also several storeys high and in need of some renovations. But the location, near the riverfront and the beach, is nice, and there are great views from the rooms and a big pool: [BOOK HERE]

Cendeluxe Hotel, Tuy Hoa city, Phu Yen, VietnamTuy Hoa has many accommodation options in all price ranges: this is a guest room at CenDeluxe Hotel

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Long Thuy Beach [MAP]

• VietStar Resort & Spa: $65-$90; [MAP] – A lush, calm oasis, set back from the ocean, VietStar (also called Sao Viet) is a couple of minutes west of Long Thuy village. Spacious bungalows dot a small hill with extensive gardens. It’s very peaceful despite its location nearby the main road: [BOOK HERE]

• Violet Hotel (0573 793 477) & Trung Hau Hotel (0573 793 216)$10-$15; [MAP] – These mini-hotels are a stone’s throw from Long Thuy’s beach, both offering decent rooms at reasonable prices, some with balconies looking out to sea.

Trung Hao Hotel, Long Thuy beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamLong Thuy has a couple of mini-hotels near the beach, and VietStar Resort is also nearby

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Bai Xep Beach & Ganh Ong Cliff [MAP]

There’s currently no accommodation on Bai Xep Beach and Ganh Ong Cliff (although, if you’re lucky, you might be allowed to camp for the night). The nearest accommodation is VietStar Resort and the mini-hotels in Long Thuy village: see above for details.

Bai Xep beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamThere’s no accommodation on Bai Xep beach, but you can stay at nearby Long Thuy beach instead

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Mui Yen Cape & Yen Beach [MAP]

For the time being, there’s no accommodation on Mui Yen Cape or Yen Beach. However, I expect that a couple of simple guest houses (nhà nghỉ) and homestay-style places will open up very soon, on account of the increasing number of budget travellers on motorbikes who are beginning to explore the area. For now, head to Long Thuy or Tuy Hoa for a place to stay the night.

Mui Yen beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamFor the time being, the nearest accommodation to Mui Yen beach is Long Thuy or Tuy Hoa

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An Hai Beach & Mai Nha Islet [MAP]

There’s no accommodation on An Hai Beach at the moment, but it’s sometimes possible to arrange for camping overnight on Mai Nha Islet. However, it’s best not to count on this. Again, the nearest places to stay are Long Thuy or Tuy Hoa.

An Hai beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamThere’s nowhere to stay on An Hai beach yet, the closest accommodation is Long Thuy or Tuy Hoa

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Da Dia Cliffs & Beach [MAP]

Surprisingly, considering it’s popularity among domestic tourists, there aren’t really any accommodation options near the Da Dia Cliffs. There are several signs for nhà nghỉ (local guest houses) in the area, including Chi Thanh on Highway QL1A, but none that I saw were particularly worth mentioning. I’m sure a few places to stay will pop up soon, though. In the past, I’ve camped on the grassy hills near the lighthouse. For now, most visitors to Da Dia come as part of a day trip from Tuy Hoa or Quy Nhon.

Camping at Da Dia, Phu Yen Province, VietnamIn the past, I’ve camped at Da Dia, but most visitors come as a day trip from Tuy Hoa or Quy Nhon

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Ganh Do Beach, Song Cau & Xuan Dai Bay [MAP]

There are several nhà nghỉ (guest houses) by the roadside as Highway QL1A passes by Ganh Do Beach. Nha Nghi Hung Mai (tel: 0257 3699 999) has large, clean rooms for around 200,000vnd ($10) and is fine for a night. It’s also possible to stay right on the beach at Biet Thu Ganh Do (tel: 091 827 17 75), which has a good location on the seafront. A few minutes further up the road, Kim Gia Trang (tel: 0573 743 134) is a large and ornate roadside guest house. In Song Cau, Laura Hotel (tel: 0257 3728 879) is on the edge of town, with decent rooms for around $15. But there are also a couple of guest house along the highway north of town, including AStop (tel: 0257 3876 768) which has chalets and an infinity pool right on the Xuan Dai Bay.

Fishing nets, Song Cau, Phu Yen Province, VietnamSong Cau is a fishing town: there are several guest houses & mini-hotels in & around town

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Xuan Thinh Peninsular: Bai Om, Tu Nham & Vinh Hoa Beaches [MAP]

So far, there are only a couple of accommodation options on the beautiful long, empty beaches of Xuan Thinh Peninsular. They are right next door to each other on the sands of Vinh Hoa Beach, at the northeastern end of the peninsular. Both offer good, fairly simple, clean, and affordable rooms/dorms on a glorious stretch of palm-backed sand. This is the very early stages of tourism in this area, so come now and see it in its infancy, because things are only going to getting bigger. As well as the following two accommodations, you can find plenty of great ‘wild camping’ spots on Xuan Thinh Peninsular, if you have your own equipment with you.

• Ocean Beach Hostel: $5-$15; [MAP] – Offering clean and sparse dorms in a classic tropical-beach-shack, Ocean Beach Hostel has got everything a backpacker looks for in a budget beach hostel. A great place to relax by the ocean without spending too much money: [BOOK HERE]

• Timothe Beach Bungalow: $25-$35; [MAP] – A step up in price from its neighbour, but still offering good value for money, Timothe Beach Bungalow has attractive, minimally furnished, modern, white-washed bungalows right on the beach, some with balconies and terraces. Try to book in advance: [BOOK HERE]

Vinh Ho & Tu Nham beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamThere are a couple of very good budget guest houses/hostels on the beautiful & empty Vinh Hoa beach

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Vinh Cuu Peninsular: Bai Tu Nham 2, Bai Tram & Bai Nom Beaches [MAP]

There’s nowhere to stay on Vinh Cuu Peninsular yet: locals call it a ‘free beach’ (bãi biển tự do). However, if you’re lucky you might be able to camp on the beachfront at Hoa Thanh village, where there are showers and a couple of seafood shacks. But, if you’re a foreign traveller, you’ll probably need to register with the local authorities, and this can sometimes be a problem. Bai Tram Hideaway Resort is currently undergoing a major expansion and will be closed for the foreseeable. When it eventually reopens, I’m sure it will be lovely, but very exclusive.

The empty beaches of Vinh Cuu Peninsular, Phu Yen Province, VietnamAs the Bai Tram Hideaway Resort is under renovation, there’s nowhere to stay on Vinh Cuu Peninsular

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Xuan Hai, Bai Rang, Bai Bau & Bai Bang Beaches [MAP]

There’s only a smattering of accommodation on these beaches at the moment, but new places are under construction, and I’m sure the scene will grow very quickly as this area becomes more and more popular with travellers:

On Bai Rang Beach there is nowhere to stay but, if you’re lucky, the owners of the beachfront eatery might let you camp (with your own tent).

• Life’s A Beach Backpackers: $5-$15; [MAP] – This is the perfect budget beach retreat. Located on the southern cove of Bai Bau, Life’s A Beach Backpackers (also known as Life’s A Beach 2) is exceptionally good value for money and just what most sun-sea-and-sand-seeking backpackers are looking for. With dorm beds and tents for as little as $5 a night, and private rooms for less than $15 a night, Life’s A Beach is cheap enough for even the most frugal of budget travellers. Its setting, on a lush hillside with an easy descent through the rocks to an isolated beach, is marvellous. There’s a beach bar, restaurant, music, and all the backpacker vibes you’d expect from a Southeast Asian beach hostel. It’s an extraordinary set-up, really, and some people fall for it so much they end up staying a lot longer than they intended: [BOOK HERE]

Bai Bau beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamLife’s A Beach Backpackers is excellent budget value & has this beach practically to itself

The other option on Bai Bau Beach is Trung Duong (tel: 0983 615 873), just up from Life’s A Beach. Here there are shabby but cheap (200,000vnd) bungalows near the beach. But it’s difficult to find a reason to stay here over Life’s A Beach. The second of Bai Bau’s coves is taken up by Bai Bau Resort. However, this was undergoing repairs at the time of writing (June 2018) and showed no signs of reopening soon.

Bai Bang Beach is the site of Chu Village Resort (tel: 0903 872 728). Currently being refurbished, it should be open by the time you read this. I wasn’t able to take a proper look around, but the new renovations seemed to include some kind of a race track, which was already disturbing the peace of this area. A bit further up from Chu Village, Cat Homestay (tel: 0888 188 179) is a new place with only a handful of clean, simple, cheap (200,000-350,000vnd) rooms set around a garden. It’s by the roadside, but there’s easy access to the beach via a shady lane. Next door, follow another lane to Bai Bang Resort where the owners of the cafe/restaurant should let you camp on the beach for around 200,000vnd a night (the resort itself wasn’t open at the time of research due to renovations).

Bai Bau beach, Phu Yen Province, VietnamAnother budget choice on Bai Bau beach is the run-down but scenically located Trung Duong

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Bai Xep Beach & Cu Lao Xanh Island [MAP]

Over the past few years, a clutch of excellent budget and mid-range accommodations have opened on Bai Xep beach and fishing hamlet. And, around Bai Xep hamlet, several high-end resorts dot the sands. On Cu Lao Xanh Island there are a few homestays in the main fishing village, which make for a rustic night next to the perfect blue seas:

• Big Tree Backpackers: $7-$10; [MAP] – Relaxed, casual, cheap, and cool, Big Tree Backpackers offers dorm beds in bright mixed dormitories. The beachfront bar (including craft beers) and restaurant (including pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven) is excellent, sheltered under the leaves of a tropical almond tree. It attracts a mixed crowd across all age ranges and nationalities: [BOOK HERE]

• Home of Dreamers: $10-$30; [MAP] – From dorm beds to private doubles with sea-view balconies, Home of Dreamers is an eccentric little place on a alleyway just back from the beach. Attractively decorated in pastel tones with mural-painted walls, and furnished with potted plants, wooden chests and dream-catchers hanging from the ceiling, this is an atmospheric budget accommodation. The beach is just one minute walk away: [BOOK HERE]

• Confetti Guest House: $5-$25; [MAP] – Right at the entrance to Bai Xep hamlet, just after turning off the main road, Confetti is housed is a long, wood-shuttered and palm-thatched building. Hung with lanterns and surrounded by tropical fruit trees, Confetti more than makes up its lack of beachfront location in its style and decor. There’s a funky yet classy feel to this place: all the rooms and spaces have been thoughtfully decorated and designed. There’s a mixed dormitory or private rooms with views over Bai Xep village to the ocean. The home-cooked Vietnamese meals are delicious: [BOOK HERE]

Confetti Guest House, Bai Xep beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamThere is a cluster of excellent budget guest houses & hostels in Bai Xep: this is Confetti

• Haven Vietnam: $35-$50; [MAP] – One of the pioneers of the Bai Xep beach scene, Haven has private rooms right next to the beach in a cosy villa-style house. Rooms are tastefully and brightly appointed, some with balconies with terrific views of the beach. Haven is now firmly in the mid-range price category. It’s great for couples or small families: [BOOK HERE]

• Life’s A Beach Guest House: $6-$50; [MAP] – Another of the Bai Xep trailblazers, Life’s A Beach now have three properties in the area. The Guest House features a range of rooms, including a dormitory and private rooms with sea-views. There’s an informality and charm to the playful, rustic-chic decor here, and the general vibe is cheerful and understated. It’s right on the beach: [BOOK HERE]

• Life’s A Beach Apartments: $35-$45; [MAP] – The only accommodation on the north side of Bai Xep, Life’s A Beach Apartments offer a colourful, homey, breezy space with sea views out across the bay to Quy Nhon. The apartments are beautifully designed, full of natural light, and well-proportioned. It’s very popular, so book in advance: [BOOK HERE]

• AVANI Resort & Spa: $120-$200; [MAP] – This long-running high-end resort (formerly the Life Wellness Resort) was refurbished a few years ago, and since then has become extremely popular. Rooms are spacious, bright, clean, and classy. They’ve found the right balance of modern and traditional – there’s even some echoes of Cham architecture. The pool is lovely and the resort has a large slice of Bai Xep beach. But most of all, the location is fabulous: looking out over the bay with the islets and fishing boats dotting the water: [BOOK HERE]. Just south of AVANI, the Anantara Resort is under construction, which promises to be another classy, high-end accommodation.

• Casa Marina Resort: $60-$100; [MAP] – A new addition to the Bai Xep accommodation scene, Casa Marina is a sprawling complex of rooms and bungalows. Easily recognizable by its distinctive, giant, thatched-roofed reception (it looks like some kind of bamboo space craft), Casa Marina has huge but stark and empty rooms, most with great sea views. There’s a pool, lots of beachfront, and gardens, but it has none of the intimacy of the mid-range options on Bai Xep, and lacks the classiness of AVANI: essentially, Casa Marina fills the price gap between the two. It’s perfectly fine and pleasant enough for a short stay, but perhaps not that memorable: [BOOK HERE]. Just north of Bai Xep, O.Six Resort has recently opened on a very lush section of beachfront land [MAP].

Casa Marina Resort, Bai Xep beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamView of Casa Marina Resort, one of the increasingly plush places to stay on Bai Xep beach

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Quy Hoa Village & Hoang Hau Beach [MAP]

There’s no accommodation in Quy Hoa village itself, but there’s one resort (see below) perched on the cliffs just south of Quy Hoa. Otherwise, head to Quy Nhon for accommodation:

• Aurora Villas & Resort: $80-$150; [MAP] – Occupying a spectacular position on the rocks above the sea, Aurora is a large, high-end resort that tends to attract Vietnamese families. The views are great and the accommodation is comfortable but not worth the high rates: [BOOK HERE]

Quy Hoa beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamThere’s no accommodation on Quy Hoa beach, but Aurora Resort is perched on the cliffs nearby

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Quy Nhon City & Beach [MAP]

There’s a good range of accommodation across all budgets in Quy Nhon, and there are more opening up all the time. Expect a lot more budget hostels on the back-streets in the near future, and high-rise luxury hotels on the beachfront road. Below is my pick of Quy Nhon’s accommodation, but for a full listing click here:

• O.M.E Hostel: $5-$10; [MAP] – With clean, well-kept single-sex and mixed dorms for as little as $5 a night, O.M.E Hostel is a great option for budget backpackers. It’s located on a leafy street near the centre of town. There’s a relaxed atmosphere with a rooftop for drinking, eating and chatting. Because it’s popular with Vietnamese backpackers you’ll get to meet some domestic travellers as well as foreign: [BOOK HERE]

• John & Paul Inn: $5-$15; [MAP] – With a classic Western backpacker vibe, John & Paul Inn has good dorms, cheap drinks, live music performances, foosball, sports on a big screen, and an all-around sociable atmosphere. It’s a lively, popular place and you might find it difficult to get a bed, so book in advance: [BOOK HERE]

• Halo Hostel: $6-$10; [MAP] – Another cheap, bright, cosy little hostel with dorm beds and a couple of private rooms, Halo Hostel is a warm and friendly place that feels a bit like a homestay. It’s got a typically Asian ‘cutie’ vibe and is popular with young Vietnamese couples on a budget: [BOOK HERE]

View of Quy Nhon beach, Binh Dinh, VietnamSea views like this have led to a building boom of high-rise hotels & apartments in Quy Nhon

• Sao Bien/Starfish Hotel: $7-$20; [MAP] – Immaculately clean and very reasonably priced, Sao Bien Hotel (also known as Starfish) has private rooms, some with balconies (but some are windowless). Its location, close to the city beach, makes the low rates particularly good value for money: [BOOK HERE]

• Wow Hotel: $20-$30; [MAP] – In amongst a cluster of good, mid-range mini-hotels, Wow Hotel has clean, airy rooms with crisp white sheets. It’s a bright and comfortable accommodation that’s close to the beach and city centre: [BOOK HERE]

• Seagull Hotel: $60-$80; [MAP] – With a prime location right on Quy Nhon’s beach, Seagull Hotel underwent major renovations not long ago, and has since become a very comfortable mid-range hotel with fantastic sea views from its balconies. Although the standard is still below what I’d expect for the money, it ticks all the boxes for a night if you’re a couple or family on a mid-range budget, or a business traveller: [BOOK HERE]

• Muong Thanh Hotel: $50-$80; [MAP] – This large Vietnamese hotel chain specializes in big ugly hotels along the coast. However, the rooms are spacious and well-appointed, and there’s a big pool and sea views. Not much character, but it’s about as close as Quy Nhon gets to a business-class hotel (although that’s set to change very soon with the imminent opening of other big hotel chains): [BOOK HERE]

Seagull Hotel, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamRecently renovated, the Seagull Hotel is currently the best mid-range hotel in Quy Nhon

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Phuong Mai Peninsular: Nhon Hai, Eo Gio & Ky Co Beaches [MAP]

Considering its rapidly growing popularity, there aren’t that many accommodation options on the beaches of Phuong Mai Peninsular (yet). However, there are a couple of hostels, a handful of local guest houses, and a brand new, ultra-modern resort. It’s also possible to camp at Cua Bien (Seagate) theme park on the Thi Nai Lagoon, and pretty soon there’ll be accommodation available on Ky Co beach, too:

• Nhon Hai Beach Hostel: $5-$20; [MAP] – With very cheap, cosy but sparse dorms and several simple, clean private rooms, Nhon Hai Beach Hostel is the only real option for staying on this beautiful bay at the southern tip of the Phuong Mai Peninsular. A couple of nights here and you’ll be very relaxed indeed. It’s directly on the beach and there are lots of walks and boats trips around the area from here: [BOOK HERE]

• FLC Luxury Resort: $100-$200; [MAP] – This enormous, sleek, modern resort has spacious, bright rooms with amazing sea views. It’s aimed at package groups and sticks out like a sore thumb, towering over the fishing villages of Eo Gio. They’re still building the surrounding infrastructure, including shopping malls, golf courses and the like: [BOOK HERE]

• Eo Gio Guest Houses: $10-$20; [MAP] – There are a few local guest houses (nhà nghỉ in Vietnamese) in Eo Gio village and on the seafront. I don’t find any to be particularly good, but if you want to stay here, just head down to the beachfront lane and check out what’s available.

FLC Resort, Eo Gio, Quy Nhon, VietnamThe opening of FLC Luxury Resort is the beginning of major development on the Phuong Mai Peninsular

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Trung Luong Beach & Beyond [MAP]

Apart from the two places listed below, there are several cheap local guest houses (nhà nghỉ in Vietnamese) near the intersection of roads QL19B and DT640 in Trung Luong village.

• Crown Retreat: $70-$90; [MAP] – Recently opened, the Crown Retreat is the only place to stay right on Trung Luong beach, and it’s very good. With a great position just up the bank from the ocean, guest bungalows are tastefully furnished, cosy, and very comfortable. All rooms have sea views, and rates are about right for the quality. There’s a good pool and restaurant, too: [BOOK HERE]

• Trung Luong Camping: $5-$20 | Tel: 094 209 0909; [MAP] – Just a couple of minutes beyond Trung Luong village on the wonderful ocean road, Trung Luong Camping is great value for budget travellers. Offering tents or little private chalets for very reasonable prices, Trung Luong Camping attracts a young Vietnamese crowd on weekends, but is quite empty during the week. The position is amazing: squeezed between boulders on a rocky bit of coast with access via a pathway to a secluded beach. There’s a bar and food, too.

Trung Luong beach, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamTrung Luong beach has a couple places to stay, including the new, scenically situated Crown Retreat

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FOOD & DRINK:

Although not necessarily famous for its cuisine, Phú Yên Province and Quy Nhon have a lot to offer the hungry traveller. Some of the best seafood I’ve had anywhere in Vietnam has been in this region, and local street food is both plentiful and delicious, focusing on dishes that just happen to be some of the most popular for foreign palates. In general, I have included specific places to eat and drink in my descriptions of individual beaches above, and marked them on my map. However, below is a brief overview of the kind of food and drink you’ll find as you travel through this region:

Street food in Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh, VietnamPhu Yen & Quy Nhon have great seafood, street food, and even some Western options


STREET FOOD:

Popular regional dishes include cơm gà (chicken rice), bánh xèo (filled savoury rice flour pancakes), bánh căn (savoury rice flour cakes), bánh bèo (savoury rice batter flans), bún cá (fish noodle soup), and chả cuốn (filled fresh spring rolls, also called bánh cuốn in this part of Vietnam), all of which you’ll see by the roadside, particularly from the afternoon onwards, in almost all towns, villages, and hamlets. Look out for the signs in Vietnamese and dig in. A plate of any of the above rarely costs more than a dollar or two (20,000-40,0000vnd). In general, food is spicier in coastal Central Vietnam, which is often attributed to the legacy of the Indianized ancient kingdom of Champa, which flourished in this region between the 11th and 15th centuries. (For recommendations of specific street food stalls, see the markers on my map, or the individual descriptions of each of the beaches).

Street food in Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh Province, VietnamStreet food stalls can be found all over the region, even in small fishing hamlets

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SEAFOOD & WESTERN:

Seafood is a highlight of visiting this stretch of Vietnam’s coastline. The seafood here is fresh, varied, reasonably-priced, and delicious. Prepared in hundreds of different ways, Vietnamese are expert seafood cooks. There are lots of clusters of classic, informal Vietnamese seafood restaurants (quán hải sản) throughout the area that this guide covers. From floating restaurants in beautiful bays to bustling eateries on city seafronts, they are all fabulous places to dine. I’ve marked several clusters of seafood restaurants on my map and mentioned them in my descriptions of specific beaches. As an example, Út Tèo restaurant, on the seafront road in Quy Nhon, serves some of the best seafood I’ve ever had in Vietnam. Seafood is best enjoyed in a group; it’s not really something you can indulge in if you’re travelling solo. Ordering can be difficult, because of the variety of dishes and the absence of English translations at most restaurants. However, with an open and adventurous palate, and being willing to make some mistakes, you should be able enjoy many a seafood feast while travelling through Phu Yen and Quy Nhon.

Because Phu Yen Province and Quy Nhon aren’t yet popular tourist destinations, there isn’t much Western food available. However, there are a few good options if you’re craving some home comforts. Quy Nhon and Bai Xep beach both have a decent range of Euro-US fare, as do all the higher-end accommodations in this region. There’s even one or two unexpected Western joints, such as Bob’s American Cafe on the back streets in Tuy Hoa.

Seafood in Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh Province, VietnamSome of the best seafood I’ve ever had in Vietnam has been on the seafront promenade in Quy Nhon

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CAFES & BARS:

As with the rest of Vietnam, there are local cafes across Phu Yen Province and Quy Nhon. Quy Nhon, in particular, has a thriving cafe scene, especially around the area that I call the ‘Cafe Quarter‘. There are also several good seafront bars for sunset cocktails or an ice cold beer after a day in the sun. In Quy Nhon, the Surf Bar and T.O.P Pub are popular hangouts in the cool evenings. Bai Xep beach has a cluster of places right on the ocean with great cocktails. Some of the beachside accommodations across the region also have good bars. (See my map and descriptions of individual beaches for specific recommendations.)

The Surf Bar, Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh Province, VietnamThere are several beach bars in Quy Nhon & surrounding beaches, & Quy Nhon has a vibrant cafe scene

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GETTING THERE & AROUND:

Getting to and from Phu Yen and Quy Nhon from almost anywhere in Vietnam is fairly straightforward. There are direct bus connections from most coastal and Central Highland cities, flights from Hanoi and Saigon, and trains connecting all stations on the main north-south line. Once there, by far the best way of getting around the region is with your own wheels (either motorbike, bicycle, or hired car and driver), but there are also some public transport connections:

SEARCH & BOOK TICKETS:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search all transportation options to Phu Yen and Quy Nhon and make bookings directly from this page by using the Baolau.com search boxes & links throughout this guide. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.


BY AIR:

Phu Yen is served by Tuy Hoa’s Dong Tac Airport, across the Da Rang River south of Tuy Hoa city. Quy Nhon is served by Phu Cat Airport, 30km northwest of the city. Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific, and Vietjet all operate daily flights between both airports to and from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Check the airlines’ websites for details or compare flight times and prices on Baolau.com. Taxis and airline shuttle buses connect both airports with their respective cities. As Phu Yen and Quy Nhon become more popular, there will surely be more domestic flights and, eventually, international flights to regional hubs.

Floating fish farms, Vung Ro Bay, Phu Yen, VietnamTuy Hoa & Quy Nhon both have airports with regular flights to/from Saigon & Hanoi

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BY TRAIN:

Tuy Hoa train station is on the main Reunification Express line: almost all north-south trains stop here. Quy Nhon station, however, is on a spur line, which means that most travellers to Quy Nhon by train will in fact arrive at Dieu Tri station (10km west of Quy Nhon) on the main line, from where you can get a taxi into the city. However, several trains do serve Quy Nhon station directly, including one train a day in each direction between Saigon and Quy Nhon. On the main line, there are around a dozen trains each day in both directions, linking Tuy Hoa and Dieu Tri with Saigon and Hanoi, via all main station stops in between. One of the most convenient and popular trains is the SE4 night train, departing Saigon in the evening and arriving in Tuy Hoa or Dieu Tri the next morning. Check current schedules, ticket prices, availability, and make bookings through Baolau.com or the Vietnam Railways website.

Vietnam Railways trainTuy Hoa, Quy Nhon & Dieu Tri stations are all connected by daily trains on the main north-south line

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BY BUS:

Long distance buses connect Tuy Hoa and Quy Nhon with all coastal cities between Saigon and Hanoi, and also many destinations in the Central Highlands. The Tuy Hoa bus station and Quy Nhon bus station are both large but reasonably easy to navigate. Long distance buses, including sleeper night buses, are pretty comfortable these days, although if travelling between coastal cities I still prefer to take the train. If, however, you’re heading to the highlands, you’ll have to take a bus. Prices are reasonable (usually cheaper than the trains) and road connections are getting better all the time. Popular destinations from Tuy Hoa and Quy Nhon include: Danang (6-8 hours), Nha Trang (3-4 hours), Dalat (7-8 hours), and Ho Chi Minh City (12 hours). Compare prices, times, bus companies, and book tickets on Baolau.com. One of the most popular and trusted long distance bus companies is Futa (Phuong Trang): check times and prices on their website.

Travelling by bus along the Phu Yen & Quy Nhon coast, VietnamBus connections to Phu Yen & Quy Nhon are good, linking most major coastal & highland cities

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GETTING AROUND:

Transportation infrastructure in the region (particularly the roads) is surprisingly good, especially considering the awkward terrain: lakes, rivers, lagoons, and mountainous spurs. Road access to the sea and beaches is good, thus this really is the perfect area to explore with your own wheels: motorbike, bicycle, or hired car (with driver). If you don’t already have a motorbike, they can be rented from many of the accommodations in the area. Some hotels can also arrange a car and driver for a day or more (usually around $100 a day). There are taxi companies in Tuy Hoa and Quy Nhon (for example: Mai Linh and Sun Taxi) which are good for excursions to beaches. A local bus network connects some of the towns between Tuy Hoa and Quy Nhon, such as Song Cau. Again, your accommodation should be able to offer more information about this. But, ultimately, the coastal back-roads of Phu Yen and Quy Nhon are best explored with your own two wheels, by following some, if not all, of the roads and lanes that I’ve marked on my map. With your own transportation you can really delve into this region, reaching beaches and fishing villages that are way off the beaten path, and exploring what is surely one of the prettiest parts of coastal Vietnam. (The beaches of Phu Yen and Quy Nhon are part of my Beach Bum and Coast Road motorbike routes.)

Motorbiking the beaches of Phu Yen & Quy Nhon, VietnamTo really explore the back-roads & beaches of Phu Yen & Quy Nhon, it’s best to travel on two-wheels

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WEATHER:

The best time of year to visit the coast of Phu Yen Province and the beaches around Quy Nhon is from March to September. During these months the weather is usually clear, dry, hot and sunny: the kind of weather you expect on a tropical beach. The seas are also calmest at this time of year, making it perfect for swimming. The months from October to February can be windy, wet and surprisingly bleak. The seas can be rough, and this region sometimes lies in the path of typhoons coming in from the east during October and November.

The beaches of Quy Nhon & Phu Yen Province, VietnamThe best time to visit the beaches of Phu Yen & Quy Nhon is between March & September

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I enjoy the beaches of Phu Yen and Quy Nhon and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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