NHA Trang to Hoi An: The Untouched Coastline of Vietnam
NHA Trang reminded me of Honolulu, Hawaii. Hotel sky rises bordered the beach. The beach itself was filled with tourists, umbrellas, and lounge chairs. I was surprised by how clean the beach was. No trash on the beach or in the water. To add to the cleanness the water was crystal clear with visibility up to 20+ feet. The majority of people on the beach were Russians, as Vietnam is a popular place for Russians to take vacations. The plus sized 60-year-old Russian women would stand on the beach for hours tanning. Hands on their hips, chest towards the sun, they would stand and flex till their skin turned the rosy red color of the Vietnamese flag. Only staying here for a day, we spent most of our time at the beach and the hostel. The hostel we stayed at was called the Reunion Hostel. They offered one of the greatest promotions in the hospitality industry, free beer. Every night from 6-7 our hostel had free beer. This is free, unlimited, no strings attached beer. All because we booked a room at the hostel. Incredible. After we took full advantage of this opportunity we cruised the town for the rest of the night. Waking up in the morning we were served our free breakfast as if free beer wasn’t enough “free” for us. We mounted our bikes and began our trek to our next stop on the Southern Coast, Doc Let Beach.
This beach is located on the peninsula just north of NHA Trang and straight out from Ninh Hoa. We took our motorcycles down the coastal road in search of a beach. Lucky for us, we found a perfect beach located in a cove on the peninsula (Here are the coordinates: 12.420723, 109.300099). The beach was only accessible via a drainage ditch from the road. The ditch morphed into a barely recognizable trail that let through jungle brush, and eventually to the beach. Lucky for us, a local woman was on her way to the same beach. She helped guide us through the brush and we made it to the beach. This is by far the most secluded beach I had ever been to. Our footprints were the only footprints on the beach. The local woman spent her time wandering the beach picking up various items that had washed ashore (mostly fishing supplies). We spent our time crafting the most magnificent sandcastle Vietnam had ever seen. After about 2 hours of swimming and practicing our architecture skills, we remounted our motorized steeds and spent the night in a janky hotel by Doc Let Beach.
The next morning we continued our journey north with Tuy Hoa as our end goal for the day. We stopped at the next peninsula north (just north of Hon Lon Island) where we found yet another empty beach to relax on. This white sand beach stretched on for miles with no buildings in sight. The only sign of civilization were the few fishing boats in the background. A few more hours were spent relaxing here before we continued north to Tuy Hoa. There really wasn’t much in Tuy Hoa. It was a pretty quiet modern town along the coast. We did eat some raw frozen tuna for lunch which was interesting, but I probably won’t be ordering that again.
The next day we drove to Quy Nhon which, was similar to Tuy Hoa. There really wasn’t much there. On the way, we stopped at Ganh Da Dia which is a rock formation along the coast. It is essentially a mini version of Irelands Giant’s Causeway made up of 2-foot wide basalt columns rising out of the ground. The shapes of these columns range from circles, hexagons, pentagons, and octagons. After our time in Quy Nhon, we decided to dedicate an entire day to our bikes and ride to Hoi An. On our way up we took a quick break at the Son My Museum. Son My is a village in Vietnam and was the site of the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War. It was one of if no the biggest atrocity that occurred in the War. Here American and South Korean Soldiers killed between 347 (according to the United States) and 504 (according to Vietnam) unarmed villagers on March 16, 1968. The victims were men, women, children, and infants. The Museum was very informative but intense and gruesome as well. All of the foundations of the houses at Son My have been kept in place and you could walk through the old village. After 30 minutes at the site, we paid our respects to the victims of the massacre and continued our drive north.
After over 10 hours on the largest South Coast highway, 1A, we made it to Hoi An. We witnessed just about everything on this ride, giant trucks full of pigs, pigs on the backs of bikes, dead pigs, a man carrying 2 full sized dressers on the back of a scooter, and, of course, many motorcyclists that didn’t like to look left before they merged. But we made it, safe, sound, and no motorcycle breakdowns. Most of our time in Hoi An was spent eating, our new hobby in Vietnam. Our go to restaurant was Banh Mi Phuong. Throughout our 3 days in Hoi An I sampled 6 of their sandwiches. All of which blew my mind. This banh mi Mecca is one of the most popular places in town as Anthony Bourdain dubbed it the best banh mi in Vietnam. Although I have trouble making such a bold statement, due to our experiences in Ho Chi Minh, they definitely had the best pork I have ever had. Although peppery, the pork was able to maintain a sweet bbq flavor that bordered on perfection. These banh mis ran us between 20,000 and 25,000 dong ($0.90 – $1.10 USD). We also decided to splurge and eat at another highly rated food stand called Bale Well. This has been one of the most expensive meals we have had at 120,000 dong ($5.40). This may just have been the best meal I have consumed in Vietnam. It was another “make your own spring roll” place. The contents: pork sate, banh xeo (rice pancakes filled with shrimp and bean sprouts), fresh herbs (mint, basil, and coriander), some sweet pickled cabbage, carrots, and onions, and tightly rolled fried spring rolls. These ingredients were stuffed and rolled in rice paper and dipped in a sweet and spicy soybean sauce. The soybean sauce tasted very similar to a spicy peanut sauce and was the highlight of the dish. The mix of the sweet pork and freshness of the herbs soaked in the spicy soybean sauce brought this dish to the top of my list. My words or photos will not come close to doing this meal justice. You’re just going to have to fly to Vietnam to try it yourself, as this one meal will be worth the cost of your flight and time. Aside from eating in Hoi An, we wandered the streets and night and took in the hanging colored lanterns. Lanterns were strung through the streets of “old town”. From one yellow, one-story, stucco building to another it’s no wonder the whole town is a UNESCO Heritage site. It still has an old authentic Vietnamese feel as the town didn’t suffer much from the war. Of course, this is if you can look past the hoards of tourists in the town.
After Hoi An, we headed 18 miles north to Da Nang. We are here for a day waiting for a rain storm to pass before we drive to Hue. While in Da Nang, we wandered the Marble Mountains. The main attraction here was a cave through one of the mountains. The inside of the cave was littered with led lights and religious relics. It was a great activity for a rainy day. Most of the items in the cave seemed fairly new. The relics and statues looked like they had been placed in the cave for the sole purpose of attracting tourists. Aside from that our hostel, Da Nang Backpackers Hostel, offers another free beer promotion which should consume the rest of our night.