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Vietnam's Binh Dinh is a narrow province set between Gia Lai province on the highlands and the South China Sea. If you are planning on heading into the Central Highlands, this is an ideal place to head west with Route 19 heading west to Pleiku from Binh Dinh's provincial capital of Qui Nhon.
Qui Nhon (also spelt Quy Nhon) is a medium-sized town that counts fishing as its mainstay and not surprisingly, the seafood here is excellent. Approaching Qui Nhon from the south on Highway 1A, it looks like a beautiful, quaint little beachside town. From the north, the approach is congested with honking cars, belching fumes past and endless line of ugly storefronts. The truth of Qui Nhon is, not surprisingly, in between. The surrounds can be beautiful, but the town is set up more as a commercial centre than a tourist destination.
In the eleventh century it was a thriving Cham port and in the fifteenth century it became Emperor Le Thanh Ton's ruling base. The area inland of Qui Nhon was the site of heavy fighting during the Vietnam War and Qui Nhon's proximity and port facilities made it an important base for the American troops. However, nothing except for a half-buried tank remain to indicate that anything really happened.
Food and Drink
It's impossible to review Qui Nhon without pointing out that Barbara's Kiwi Connection on Xuan Dieu is a great place to eat. There isn't a huge selection, but unlike a lot of other places, if it's on the menu, they always seem to have it in the kitchen. There are daily specials like pork shops or roast chicken and rice, some pasta dishes -- macaroni, spaghetti, or penne with great beef marinara sauce and healthy does of shredded cheddar and parmesan cheese. They also make a great toasted cheese sandwich with tomatoes, onions, ham, and even pineapple, if you like. The prices are surprisingly fair, considering they've practically cornered the Western food market in town, and the local Qui Nhon beer is available for 4,000 VND per bottle.
The other Western option is the Imperial Restaurant at the Saigon-Quynhon Hotel. It's large and usually empty, but they do have dishes like Lobster Thermidor and Lamb Chops, with entrees in the 100- to 200,000 VND range, and a good selection of wines. There's also an upscale but reasonably prices pho shop attached to the restaurant, if you want a very cleanly-prepared, slightly-pricey bowl of noodles.
On the Vietnamese side of things, Qui Nhon has a lot of sit-down seafood places. One of the more popular spots is Que Huong 2 -- the chicken with saffron rice and the beef stew come recommended, as well as the seafood dishes. The original Que Huong Restaurant is located bit north on Tang Bat Ho St, corner of Tran Cao Van. The Sinh Thai Lake area to the north of town is good for a visit in the afternoon or evening -- there are a couple of seafood places on Phan Dinh Phung St along the water including Song Thuy, noted for offering endangered species like sea-turtle, though apparently not on the English-language menu.
The area around Long Khanh pagoda on Tran Cao Van street is a great place to head for lunch or dinner. There are several vegetarian places (look for the signs saying com chay,) including Tinh Tam, just north of the pagoda, which has delicious veggie dishes at cheap prices -- definitely try some o hoa nhoi which is bitter-melon, usually with pork in the middle, here a tasty soy substitute. There's nicer seating in the back of the restaurant. The area is also good for meals of com which literally means 'cooked rice' but implies a wide variety of meat, fish, and vegetable entrees served with rice. They usually have all their offerings laid out on display so you can point and pick. A good one, just south of the pagoda, is Com Binh Dan.
There's a funky little neighbourhood just off the beach that you might miss by just wandering around, which has a couple of a seafood places that come recommended by Barbara's Kiwi Connection: 2000 Seafood on Tran Doc St and Dong Seafood, with its impressive storefront and upstairs seating, one block over on Nguyen Lac. To get to this neighbourhood, take Nguyen Hue west until it's just about to end and then take the extreme left down a road that heads to the beach and eventually turns into sand. The side streets are to the left.
In the evenings, you'll notice tables and chairs set up on a corner of the intersection of Ngo May and An Vuong Duong Sts. It's a great place for an evening beverage, with lots of desert-type drinks on offer, and along a side street, some bia tuoi joints serving fresh beer and some very exotic accompaniments, such as cut ram, which is grilled quail, along with trung cut, which are -- there's no good way to put this -- foetal quail's eggs.
2000 Seafood: 1 Tran Doc St, Qui Nhon. T: (056) 812 787
Com Binh Dan: 121 Tran Cao Van, Qui Nhon. T: (056) 823 980. Hours: 07:00 to 10:30
Dong Seafood: 26 Nguyen Lac, Qui Nhon. T: (056) 824 877
Hoang Huy Seafood: 18 Suan Dieu, Qui Nhon. T: (056) 893 915, F: (056) 815 120
The Imperial Restaurant: 24 Nguyen Hue St, Qui Nhon. T: (054) 820 100, F: (056) 828 128. Hours: 06:00 to 22:00
Tinh Tam: 145 Tran Cao Van, Qui Nhon. T: (056) 827 773. Hours: 06:00 to 20:00
Song Thuy: 107 Phan Dinh Phung, Qui Nhon. T: (056) 817 733. Hours: 07:00 to 22:00
Sights and Attractions
The Old Tank
On the beach, just south of the Lan Anh Hotel, is one of the very few pieces of war detritus in all of Vietnam that is actually still left in place. A tank, abandoned by fleeing South Vietnamese forces towards the end of the war, was left on the beach and has worked it's way so deep into the sand, not even the most eager scrap collector has bothered to work it out. You can still see the top of the tank and the gun turret, especially at low tide. It makes for a good Kodak moment with your friends. There's a picture in the Binh Dinh Museum in town, taken of this spot, with the Phuong Mai peninsula in the background, and destroyed tanks littering the beach. It might even be a picture of the same tank, but we couldn't be sure -- something fun to check out and decide for yourself.
Queen's Beach (Han Mac Tu Tomb), and Qui Hoa Beach, Leprosy Hospital
These two spots make sense to visit together. As you go down An Duong Vuong St south, just past the HAGL Resort, there's a sharp left turn marked by a gate. Admission to the Queen's Beach area is 5,000 dong, 2,000 more for a motorbike. There's a short climb up a paved road to the top of the headland, where sits the tomb of a famous Vietnamese writer, Han Mac Tu. You can stop for a visit, but it's hardly a highlight, unless you're really into Vietnamese literature. Continuing along, the road leads to the eastern bank of the headland. This is 'Queen's Beach,' named for the wife of Bao Dai, the last king of Vietnam. It's really just a rocky bit of coastline -- we don't know if that's supposed to imply anything about their marriage. There are some cafe's overlooking the water where you can stop for a refreshment, but it's not really a good spot for swimming. You can continue down the road along the headland giving on to the sea for another 2 km -- it makes for a great bike ride or hike -- until you pass through the gate at the bottom of the hill. They may want to see your ticket as you leave, so have it ready. Then you're on Qui Hoa beach, lined with casuarinas trees, and great for swimming. There are some cafes and restaurants along the road, but it's all very peaceful and low key.
The Leprosy Hospital is just off the beach. You can wander around the grounds you like and look at the statues of famous doctors, with a heavy emphasis on Vietnamese and French physicians. There's another hall of notables along the beach, starting with Hypocrites, including the Curies, and a lot of other docs you probably haven't heard of. And just because we know you're wondering, no, there aren't a lot of disfigured people walking around like Night of the Living Dead. At least, we can't be the only ones who were wondering that before we showed up. We hope. It's a state-of-the-art facility where the patients live with their families in little 'chalets.' Visitors are welcome, and those who have taken the tour have found it quite life-affirming.
You can also get to the Leprosy Hospital by not taking the sharp left turn at the end of An Duong Vuong and taking the left fork up the western side of the headland. The entrance to the hospital is well-marked, a hundred metres further down Highway 1A. If you've walked here and don't want to walk back, head to the main gate of the hospital (head west through the hospital if you're on the beach) and ask around there for a ride. It makes for a nice day trip if you're in Qui Nhon for more than the night.
Getting there and away
Qui Nhon has a train station, but it's at the end of a spur that connects to the main line 15 km north at Dieu Tri, with is the main station for the area. There is one train a day directly from Qui Nhon that stops at Dieu Tri at 18:45, costs 5,000 VND and takes 45 minutes. A good way to go, but there are very few train departures from Dieu Tri that make it convenient.
To get to Dieu Tri, head out of town on Tran Hung Dao until you reach the intersection after 9 km. The town of Dieu Tri is 6 kilometres further north on Highway 1A -— you can't miss it. A taxi should cost about 70,000 VND and takes about twenty minutes (due to traffic).
Departures from Dieu Tri head north and south, as they do all along the line. Below we give the lowest possible prices available (for the TN trains that means a hard seat, for the SE trains, a soft seat with fan) and the highest—a first class sleeper, where available.
Qui Nhon's bus station is located at the west end of Tay Son St, at the southern end of town. A mototaxi should cost about 15,000 VND from anywhere else in town. There are at least five different bus companies all operating out of booths at the station. In general, Ho Chi Minh buses cost from 120,000 to 155,000 and depart at 6:30, 7;00, 17:00, 17:25, 18:00, 18:25, 18:30, 19:15, 19:25. The trip takes 10 hours. 16-seat vans are fine for short trips, but brutal for long ones. The ordinary buses run by Thuan Thao are cheaper, but notoriously packed to the gills.