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Abundant Nature, Small-Town Charms and Unexpected Luxury in Phú Yên

With a total population hardly larger than some Saigon districts and limited tourism development, Phú Yên province doesn’t get much consideration when people are planning their next vacation.

Photo by Frederik Wissink.

Such overlook is a great shame, however, as the province features a spectacular stretch of beaches beset by mountains and untrammeled nature as well as friendly folk eager to share charming traditions. The food is fabulous as well.

View of the sea and Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô. Photo by Frederik Wissink.

The Routes to Phú Yên are Half the Pleasure

Photo by Frederik Wissink.

530km by road from Saigon, directly below Bình Định and to the east of Gia Lai and Đắk Lắk, the coastal province takes some time to reach. Saigoneer will forever advocate time on the train, and the North-South railway (Reunification Express) stops in Phú Yên. Idyllic rice fields, placid ocean overlooks and imposing mountains in the distance: the trip is an endless series of scenic delights. However, the ride from Saigon to Tuy Hòa station lasts between nine and ten and a half hours, making it a challenge for shorter vacations. Thus, direct flights to Bình Định are a great option.

Photo by Saigoneer.

Phù Cát airport rests 30km outside Quy Nhơn, but you will need to pass through the city en route to Phú Yên. In Saigoneer’s experience, it's highly worthwhile to have some extra time in your schedule to spend in and around the gem of a city. One of the nation’s best history museums; imposing Chăm towers reminding visitors that a foreign empire once claimed southern Vietnam; a touching monument to a brilliantly bizarre poet held within a surreal leprosy colony filled with remarkable architecture; and a new science museum that is particularly thrilling for families are all worthy of a visit. 

Photos by Saigoneer.

When you finally do pass from Bình Định into Phú Yên, you might not be aware. The transition occurs in a rural area that typifies the entire province. Small fishing villages and idyllic rice and vegetable fields surrounding shrimp ponds occupy the spaces between small towns and villages. The existential crisis of tradition and modernity metaphorically exemplified by the battle between tạp hóa and foreign convenience stores, feels decades away in Phú Yên. 

Nature Flourishing in Every Direction

From the reflections of con cò gliding across flooded rice paddies and the haunting cries of thạch sùng at midnight to colorful blooms of wildflowers rioting freely on cliffs and forests, rural nature is Phú Yên’s greatest gift. 

Photo by Adaras Blogazine.

Phú Yên’s relative isolation and sparse population should be particularly welcome by beach lovers. The vast stretches of empty sand cloistered by rocky outcroppings allow for calm sunbathing and vigorous backstrokes alike. Depending on which part of the province you venture to, there are different beaches to access, with lesser-known ones available via the advice of locals. One of our favorites is undoubtedly Hòn Yến. Every summer, favorable tides transform the coral reefs into a stunning landscape that calls into question whether forests should be most associated with land or sea.

Photos by Trương Hoài Vũ for Saigoneer.

Fresh Seafood and Some More Peculiar Dishes

In addition to providing beachgoers with picturesque views, the ocean has helped shape Phú Yên’s cuisine. A bevy of fresh seafood is available throughout the region, with a particular focus on tuna. Because many of the fishermen that go deep into the sea to catch these giant fish depart from the region, tuna is found in restaurants and markets and even frozen in convenient “to go” packaging at thePhù Cát airport. Tuna’s meaty, tough-textured eyes are particularly treasured and sold fresh at restaurants.

Photo of bánh hỏi cháo lòng by Saigoneer.

While giant tuna eyes may sound unusual, Phú Yên’s most unique dish is probably chả dông. Resembling a fried spring roll, you might find anywhere in the country, the meat inside the crispy rice paper wrapping is harvested from wild monitor lizards during their late spring through early summer breeding season. The subtly smoky, gamey reptile flavors blend into the local herbs, vegetables and fish sauce. Fish sauce is also traditionally used in Phú Yên for grilled corn, another twist on a nationwide dish. And even if you consider tuna eyes and lizard flesh too adventurous, there are many new dishes to experience, such as bánh hỏi cháo lòng, which pairs porridge with delicate rice noodle mats. 

Photo by Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô.

Trendy fusion spots, familiar chains and upscale restaurants are largely non-existent in the province, so meals reinforce Saigoneer’s beliefs that the best food is often served at the most unassuming venues. From market-adjacent mom-and-pop stalls to humble seafood joints along coastal roads, the freshness and careful attention to each dish cannot be surpassed.

Exploring Rural Charms and Timeless Industries 

Photos by Frederik Wissink.

Instead of chintzy theme parks and overpriced attractions, Phú Yên contains more valuable opportunities to observe unique traditions and experience the generosity of locals who are not hardened to the transactional qualities of the tourism industry. Simply getting out and driving around the surroundings or strolling through towns and markets often yields invitations to witness small industries such as making fishing traps from wood foraged from nearby forests and massive flats of drying salt that resemble an impossible gathering of stars in the night sky. 

Photos of salt fields by Frederik Wissink for Zannier Hotels.

A highlight of a recent Saigoneer trip included visiting a home that had perfected a family recipe for producing rice paper. Explaining each step before inviting us to sit beside the fire stoked with rice fibers and trying it ourselves revealed the attention paid to the simplest items we take for granted on a daily basis. 

Photos by Ash James.

A World-Class Hotel that Offers Immersion into Phú Yên's Charms

Photo by Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô.

Given Phú Yên’s rural charms, you could reasonably assume all available lodgings would be local and basic. However, the province is home to a world-class hotel that provides unparalleled service and amenities that help one experience the area. Needing no introduction amongst luxury hotel enthusiasts, Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô occupies 245-acres of pristine nature and beachfront on a secluded peninsula in central Phú Yên. 73 free-standing villas pays homage to the region’s early cultural aesthetics with different architecutral legacies embraced for views of verdant rice paddy fields, majestic hilltops or a mile-long stretch of white sand beach. The property's sprawling forests filled with birds and butterflies, panoramic views of the ocean, and generous staff all help make it simply one of the most impressive and enjoyable hotels Saigoneer has ever visited in Vietnam.

Photos by James Campbell (left) and Frederik Wissink (right).

But more than just a place to pamper one’s senses, Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô helps you get a true feel for the area. The on-site restaurant, for example, serves local specialties that take advantage of freshly caught seafood, while experienced chefs can help you gather ingredients from the on-site organic garden to learn how to make local dishes. Watersport equipment and bicycles are available to rent and a calming spa cater to days of rest and wellness one should intersperse with adventures off the property. A hiking trail just beyond the pool leads to phenomenal views before ambling down into a small village. The hotel also offers guided excursions further into the area to witness the locals making rice paper and fish traps and can arrange a meal in a home in a floating community. A stay at Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô is thus a great way to balance desires for pampering oneself with responsible and intimate discovery of people and lifestyles.

Photos by Frederik Wissink.

There is no telling precisely how long Phú Yên will retain its rustic charms and awe-shucks sensibilities. As developers arrive to transform the coast with resorts and industry develops in the interior, the natural serenity will slowly slip away. But for now, it remains a wondrously calm area for wistful jaunts to make sepia-toned memories.

[Top image by Frederik Wissink for Zannier Hotels]

 

Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô's website

Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô's email

(+84) 0 297 392 7777

 

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