Quy Nhon city’s pristine beaches are the biggest draw for any visitor. Stretches of sand like the golden bay of Bai Xep or the turquoise waters of Ky Co understandably have guests reaching for the superlatives. But with highs of 34 degrees in the summer months. it’s good to take a break from the beach from time to time and explore the city of Quy Nhon.
This coastal city has a population of around 300,000, making it easily navigable for guests. And with vibrant markets, cool cafes, fresh seafood, museums, it’s possible to spend an entire day discovering the charms of this port city.
3.00am: Explore Quy Nhon Harbor Fish Market
Quy Nhon is transitioning from traditional industries like fishing and agriculture. As you’ll notice during the journey into town from Phu Cat Airport flanked by lush paddy fields tourism hasn’t taken over here yet. And so engaging with local life is one of the pleasures of spending time in this city that remains off the tourist map.
Start the day at Quy Nhon harbor. Things start early here—with boats rolling out their catch into the concrete open-sided fish market building starting from a little after midnight. A line of lorries wait at one end, their hungry trailer mouths ready to snap up another day’s catch to distribute to the buzzing seafood restaurants of the city, and beyond.
This is an entirely different experience to tours of famous Asian fish markets like Tokyo’s Tsukiji market. Even the dark can’t hide the vibrant colors of the fishing boats moored at the dock. And unlike at local markets in tourist towns, here they welcome guests with an inquisitive stare or a smile, and maybe a few gentle questions. Walking around you’ll see snapper, grouper, squid, and occasionally sharks and other exotic catches.
The market begins to wind down around 5 or 6am when the morning light reveals the sight of hundreds more fishing vessels bobbing in the sea. At the jetty you’ll also see school children in their uniforms arriving for school by boat. And if you arrive later still, the action moves to the warehouse buildings that line this part of Tran Hung Dao street. Inside, crews boil fish in soot-covered vats and package them for sale in local restaurants.
Once you’ve finished, enjoy breakfast at one of the many mom-and-pop pho shops across the street or if it’s still dark eat com tam, or broken rice, with the fishermen on the fringes of the market.
10am: Visit the historic Cham “Twin Towers”
Quy Nhon’s modern history goes back to the late 1800s with the official founding of the city. But Quy Nhon’s true history stretches back much further. As early as the 11th century, this was a Champa outpost. And in the years between then and its founding, Quy Nhon hosted Portuguese Jesuits, who called it “Pulo Cambi,” and Chinese treasure fleets. It was also the birthplace of the Vietnamese emperor Nguyen Hue. Incredibly, a number of Cham towers and ruins remain here. And the clay-brick monoliths can be reached without venturing far from the beach.
Although they sound like commercial buildings Quy Nhon’s Twin Towers, are in fact part of the city’s rich cultural heritage (entrance VND20,000). The towers look like a dating couple and reach 20 meters at their highest point. Climbing the towers’ steep stairs into their inner sanctums reveals their open tops and the dizzying tightly stacked bricks that helped these towers survive extensive damage during the war. Fortunately, a team of local and Polish archeologists spent the 1990s restoring the towers which means the carved tributes to Hindu deities are clearly visible around the sides of the towers thought to have been built around the 12th century.
12pm: A lunch of local fish at a Japanese-owned sushi restaurant
Escape the midday sun by heading for lunch. You might have seen the Japanese owners of Sho Japanese Restaurant picking out the freshest fish at the market earlier in the morning. That’s because Sho source all their fish locally, general manager Hiromasa Uchida tells us, unlike lots of restaurants in Saigon and Hanoi that prefer to fly theirs in from Japan.
Due to the warmth of the waters around Vietnam, fish like tuna have less fat but as much delicate flavor as their Japanese relatives. And so already, a few months after opening, Sho has been praised as Quy Nhon’s first international-standard sushi experience. Reserve one of the rooms that line the sides of the large open dining room or take a table in the middle, or at the counter at the back and share a Sashimi Moriawase set with five kinds of fish (VND450,000) or enjoy a piping hot bowl of Miso Ramen (VND135,000).
2.30pm: Drink a coffee in a stylish coffeeshop
In a country where coffeeshops fulfill a variety of roles: refueling depot, social center, and place for people-watching, it’s time to test out one of the newest chains in Quy Nhon, Marina.
Marina Coffee is a very modern type of Vietnamese coffeeshop. There’s the elegant tropical decor and the wicker sofas and opulent leather chairs from which you can take envy-inducing selfies.
Their newest branch, Marina The Garden, is on Nguyen Thi Dinh Street—a ten minute walk or short taxi ride from Sho Japanese Restaurant. The walls are painted with murals of flowers and there are birdcage-like booths and romantic balconies where you could easily while-away the entire afternoon.
In case you passed on the sushi, Marina serve light dishes like beef noodles, bún bò (VND38,000), and bánh mì with fried egg or stewed beef (VND20,000-30,000). But the main attraction here is the selection of coffees from Dak Lak—150km west into Vietnam’s southern highlands. The espresso is punchy and bitter (VND20,000) and the cà phê sữa has the right ratio of sweet milk to strong local coffee. But the stylish owner, Vy, reminds us that the milk tea they serve is good too. Vy and her business partner husband, Tu Hoang Toan, opened their first Marina cafe in 2015. Now they have four, each one as stylishly decorated as the next—something Vy credits her husband with. They’re already busy planning to open two homestays and maybe a hotel next year.
3.30pm: Take a time-out and enjoy an indulgent Thai-Swedish massage
Across the street is one of downtown Quy Nhon city’s best spas—Zen Spa. Opened by a former lecturer in business and finance at Quy Nhon University, Nguyet Nguyen has applied her extensive knowledge of starting a brand to her first wellness center. According to Nguyet, the sprawling three-floor spa already has 20-staff and an in-house trainer who follows the techniques set by the expert they flew over from Thailand to act as consultant.
Services range from laser beauty treatments to detoxifying and exfoliating masks and scrubs like their seaweed treatments. For massage treatments, start with the recommended ten minutes in your own private fresh herbal sauna (VND50,000) then indulge in a mixed Thai and Swedish massage (VND350,000) that also includes the application of a warm herbal press to ease out the last remaining pre-holiday stresses.
5.00pm Sip a fresh juice on one of Quy Nhon’s most characterful streets
The bustling main street of Nguyen That Thanh looks the least likely place to find respite from the sunshine and buzz of motorbikes. However, running alongside it is Do Doc Bao Street, a leafy lane lined with characterful coffeeshops and bars that despite its proximity feels a world away from Nguyen Tat Thanh. Quy Nhon is modernizing fast, but the pace of life along this street is slower—especially in places like Coco Tea & Coffee.
Two men enjoy a game of chess outside and inside a group of teenagers drink tea while one of them idly strums a guitar. The guitarist will play an acoustic set upstairs later this evening owner Hoàng Sakol tells us as he serves us a glass of fresh orange juice (VND25,000).
The cafe have music every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening, but it’s a tranquil, nostalgia-filled spot any day of the week. And for those wanting to start the evening early, Coco Tea & Coffee also serve cocktails like their Good Kid Mojito (VND36,000) and their Fashion Girl Old Fashioned (VND45,000).
6.00pm Enjoy a sundowner on the beach
You’d be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu upon entering Surf Bar 2 having already been to the neighbor, and original, Surf Bar next door. That’s because the bars are side-by-side with almost identical decor.
These two bars are so chilled you expect Jack Johnson to arrive at any minute and start singing his back catalogue to the accompaniment of acoustic guitar. The first opened in 2014 and due to its success the owners opened a second two years later a short distance down the beach.
7.00pm Eat your way through a southern specialty dinner
For dinner walk along the seafront to S-Blue restaurant and eat seafood on their huge terrace to the sound of lapping waves. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous try a southern speciality, oc, which translates as snails, but more broadly refers to shellfish.
Take a taxi to Oc Ken which has outposts in Saigon and Danang, and even Hanoi. Chef Tri admits to making the dishes less sweet and more salty there to suit northern tastes as we tuck into a pot of flavorsome clams in a lemongrass and chilli soup and a plate of oc huong is a rich chilli sauce. Here in central Vietnam the flavors are strong and often spicy—with an ice cold beer served on the side to dampen the heat.
9.00pm Try a customized cocktail in Quy Nhon city’s first tiki bar
Truong Tri Duong used to be a bartender at Saigon’s Hard Rock Cafe and My House Bar & Cafe. Now he’s opened his own tiki bar in his hometown, which is also on Do Doc Bao Street. It’s called Fellowship Tiki & Mixology Bar, he explains, because like Frodo and the ring, he’s carried his own magic back into the wilds of Quy Nhon.
On the TV, videos of Japanese mixologists making their classic cocktails loop as Truong Tri Duong, or Jacky as he’s known to friends, makes us a custom cocktail. He follows the sweet but well-balanced first drink with a perfect Vesper Martini with three olives served on the side. Behind him is a bar that’s as well-stocked as many in Ho Chi Minh City.
10.00pm Have a last drink accompanied by live music
Brothers Quang and Trung grew up listening to The Beatles in their family home of Dalat. Their father was a fan and would play the Liverpool group’s tracks constantly. Having studied in Saigon, the brothers came to Quy Nhon to open an inn with live music and backpacker-friendly rooms—and calling themselves John and Paul after heroes John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
They also want to share their love of ‘60s music with Quy Nhon’s millennials John tells us over a gin and tonic. In fact, they’re so passionate about British pop they formed a house band, aptly called The Come Together Band, who play regularly here.
Around the bar there’s a real mix of guests—backpackers from upstairs, locally-based expats, and Vietnamese bartenders and chefs who have just finished their shifts.
11.00pm Sleep at a funky mini-hotel and homestay
The assumption is that Saigon and Hanoi are filled with young entrepreneurs escaping their hometowns for the big city. That’s true, but Quy Nhon reveals another trend of globally-minded young business-people who’ve studied in Vietnam’s main cities or even overseas and who are returning to the peace and quiet of their hometowns to start something up.
Cocoin Hostel and Snack Bar (18/9 Tran Van On) is a good example. Owner and fashionista Ngo Thao Vuong got tired of city life in Saigon and retreated to her hometown bringing with her a cool design sensibility that infuses Cocoin with her fun, carefree energy.
Neon lights at the entrance that read “Good Vibes” and “This Way” beckon guests in. And each room is uniquely decorated. There are driftwood coat hangers and dried flowers, and in one nautically-themed room there are two oars affixed to the wall.
But in case you’re not ready to finish the night just yet there’s a well-stocked bar attached too. They serve Hoegaarden (VND50,000) and even bottles of Moët & Chandon champagne (VND2,050,000) if you feel like celebrating a memorable 24-hours in this up-and-coming beachside city.