Quy Nhon is a secret even to the Vietnamese
Haven’t heard of Quy Nhon before? You aren’t alone. Many Vietnamese aren’t familiar with the picturesque region halfway between Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh. With the sleepy charm of a destination undiscovered, the city’s origins date back to 11th century Cham civilisation, the remnants of which can be seen in its majestic ruins speckled across Bin Dinh province. Today it is still home to quaint fishing villages and unspoilt countryside. English isn’t commonly spoken, a refreshing change to be somewhere truly untainted by tourism.
Life is exquisitely slow. Even in the heart of town, expect to see only bahn mi joints and spots to sip iced coffee with condensed milk, cafe sua da. Karaoke is one of the most popular pastimes, some rooms like your own disco, complete with high-tech flashing technicolor floors. But no matter how riotous the party gets, people are generally tucked up in bed by 9pm, after which you won’t hear a peep. Early to bed makes sense as a typical Quy Nohn morning begins at 5am.
There’s nothing typical however about Anantara Quy Nhon Villas, the latest all-villa resort that opened in November 2018. With only 26 sprawled across seven acres of greenery, this is as exclusive as it gets. Each of the beachfront or ocean view villas has its own pool – large enough for laps – facing a private cove. You’re sandwiched ideally between pristine sand on one side, and lush hills on the other. Floor-to-ceiling doors maximise the private beachview, while sleek indoor and outdoor spaces offer privacy while showcasing the landscape.
Enjoy a lie in by local standards until 7.30am when you can start the day with a Viet Vo Dao session, a form of martial arts native to the area with Mr Phuc, a master who also happens to be a resort security guard. Learn to punch, kick and elbow your way through a sequence of 22 moves under his watchful eye. The choreographed attack is a great way to release any pent-up aggression, though done in the most serene of settings – the resort’s immaculate shore while rays of sun dance atop the water. For those who prefer a slower start, however, group hatha yoga classes take place each day at the spa.
Having worked up an appetite, the elegant table-served breakfast at all-day eatery Sea. Fire. Salt. is an ample way to refuel. As much a feast for the eyes, you’ll be treated to a spread of fruit, pastries and muffins, charcuterie – all even before the mains. In the centre of the dining room are a selection of juices, kombucha, cereals in addition to the smoothie of the day. When in Vietnam it seems only right to get your caffeine kick local style – cold, strong and seriously sweet.
If you still have room for lunch which takes place as early as 11.30am here, we recommend making your own with the Spice Spoons Cooking Class where you’ll create Vietnamese favourites like fresh egg and prawn spring rolls, rice flour pancake prawn banh xeo and a combination chicken and beef pho. It’s worth mentioning that the class is hands-on, not the kind where all the ingredients are prepped and you bung them into a bowl. You’ll follow chef’s lead, which includes slicing spring roll fillings into perfect strips, moistening the rice paper wrappers with just the right amount of water and rolling with intense precision.
Outside the resort, Anantara Explorer provides a taste of Binh Dinh Province. It begins with a scenic drive through verdant mountains towards Long Song, a Portuguese style church bearing resemblance to the ruins of St Paul’s in Macau, though it was founded by an Italian missionary. Gothic architecture, complete with pointed arch, ribbed vault and flying buttress is a peculiar, albeit grand, sight flanked by towering trees amidst the serene Vietnamese countryside.
The Thao Doi Twin Towers are another highlight, which involves climbing two hefty sets of stairs, but worth it for a view of the city. They are unusual for Cham architecture with pyramid rather than terraced roofs, the fact that there are two of them (structures more often built in odd numbers) and their town as opposed to hillside location. Both open up to the sky, though the brickwork of the larger tower is in much better shape. See if you can spot remnants of the Garudas at its corners.
As far as religious relics in Vietnam go, 12-storey Thien Hung Pagoda is among the most famous. I’m told its surrounding gardens are mostly tranquil, but visiting around Tet, Vietnamese new year, means locals have the same idea, especially given the photo-worthy backdrop of foliage. On the upside, it means move vivid colours with lanterns and yellow flowers left over from the celebrations.
For more action, the local market is a barrage of sights and smells, with little order in the sense that fish, meat, tofu and veg are dotted at random, but it’s a great place to people-watch. Before heading back to the resort, stop for another Vietnamese ice coffee and a banh mi. The Quy Nohn version contains more ingredients than its Hanoi counterpart apparently, so expect the works – pâté, butter, pickled vegetables, cold cuts, pork slices and spring onions on a crusty baguette.
Back in the lap of luxury, late afternoons are the best spent at the stand-alone Anantara Spa, a gorgeous secluded haven shaded by a canopy of trees and among the most stunning we have had the pleasure of being pampered in. Treatment rooms are sprawling and open out on to decks that overlook the forest, while the beach side lets in the roar of the ocean as you turn to putty in your therapist’s hands. Complimentary Tai Chi and meditation are available in the afternoons but we couldn’t see past the signature 90-minute massages.
The Chakra Crystal Balancing is gentle and relaxing. You select a crystal to infuse the massage oil – mine was rose quartz, thought to ease stress, tension and release negative emotions. In contrast the Anantara Signature Massage uses a more vigorous combination of Thai stretching with techniques to stimulate circulation, at once relaxing and invigorating and my personal favourite. For a local touch, the Traditional Vietnamese Ritual which using coconut oil applied with medium pressure to loosen muscles and stiffness to get the energy flowing again. With each, the best is saved for last – an incredible scalp and face massage, which tends to the muscles that never get enough love. And for purists, you can’t go wrong with a good old Deep Tissue Massage. Ask for Nga if you can, who specialises in acupressure and is much requested.
Retiring early for the night is how the locals like it, 6pm an acceptable dinner time. Given its shoreline location, seafood is a specialty at Sea. Fire. Salt. and it’s served on hot salt bricks, which keep the catch warm without overcooking. Selecting seasonings is a process with a library of more than 30 infused salts to choose from, to give the array of clams, fish, prawns and squid a local flavour, as well as a variety of sauces. Parmesan mash and triple-cooked fries are indulgent sides and you may as well end with the chocolate fondant with passionfruit sorbet since you’re going for it. Sitting outside on crisp evenings, the sea lit up with squid fishing boats forming a constellation on the water, stays with you. Even more so, knowing you’ve stumbled across this undiscovered place in all its unaffected charm.