The absence of luxury hotels and restaurants draws visitors from far and wide, but it’s growing popularity might well prove a curse. Ha Nguyen reports.
A group of 12 overseas Vietnamese from Los Angeles, led by Tran Quang Chan, recently arrived in Ninh Chu Beach, one of most beautiful coastal attractions in Viet Nam.
“It has a strange beauty,” said Chan’s mother Tran Thi Dy, 77, who said she particularly enjoyed lying on the yellow sand because it felt so clean and fine.
“The beach is in the shape of a crescent, with a charming sea,” she said. “It was worth travelling half-way around the world to see.”
The central province of Ninh Thuan attracts visitors because of its natural character, particularly Ninh Chu Beach, which is located in Binh Son Village, 10km from Phan Rang Town, in the central coastal province of Ninh Thuan.
“The beauty of Ninh Chu is not for a fast trip but a carefree one,” Dy said, “so you can enjoy the fresh air, zentertain yourself in the water, contemplate the purple sunset on a long stretch of sloping sand and visit the small dream-like villages near the seaport.
“It makes me feel in tune with nature, with the clear sky and peaceful clouds.”
Meanwhile, Dy’s family and friends were intrigued by the rows of poplar trees, humming in the breeze along the shoreline, as if they were whispering to the sea and singing about its fine sand dunes.
Chan said one could lie on a carpet of poplar leaves, without an umbrella or a bench, and just relax. But what he liked most was fishing at the nearby lake, which he said was full of fish, prawn, lobster, and cuttlefish.
It was a great location, surrounded by the mountains of Ca Du, Tan An and Da Chong, plus different sized rocks piled up to create a fabulous backdrop.
Chan’s friends had similar thoughts, but they liked sailing on the lake and hunting in the mountains.
The group also visited Tri Thuy Hamlet, where there also existed a harmonious landscape. The mountains nearby were covered in a jungle of rainforest, as might be expected, but rather a greyish white rock-garden of different peaks, covered with small trees. On the mountainside were ancient pagodas and a scattering of small tile-roofed houses, they said.
A short walk away there was another beach, small and wild with its own green poplar forest and rocks of weird shapes, a secluded place to hide away from the pace of daily life, said Chan.
The group then visited a vineyard in Tri Thuy and ate grapes on the spot.
In the evening Chan’s group wore traditional clothes and sang and danced with the local people.
The decision to visit Ninh Chu for the family’s vacation this year was the right one, said Chan, and he would recommend it to his friends in the US because it was clean and had fairly good hotels, hostels and eateries at affordable prices.
Phan Quoc Anh, director of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, would not be surprised to hear the recommendation of Chan and his group.
Ninh Chu was one of the top beaches in Viet Nam for tourists who wanted to see a different kind of landscape.
Anh said the absence of luxury hotels and restaurants in the area had left it unspoiled and allowed it to keep its diversified cultures.
But there was more to the area than just beaches, he added. Travellers visiting Ninh Thuan would never forget Phan Rang which had one of the nation’s biggest ethnic Cham populations, a group that once ruled over the central stretch of Viet Nam between the seventh and 19th centuries and built a great civilisation, whose relics still mystify researchers.
At this very moment, the Cham community is wrapping up preparations for the Kate Festival, the most important Cham festival of the year, which starts on September 27-29 this year.
The three-day folk festival involves every Cham in grandiose religious proceedings in which they pay tribute to genies and great historic figures who have contributed to the ancient Champa kingdom.
The rituals at the temples are followed by festivities in villages and homes to mark the happiest and most joyful occasion of the year when families and relatives get together.
The festival is a demonstration of Cham cultural values, featuring unique costumes, music, instruments, dances, games, food, customs, traditional handicrafts and performing arts.
The prime venue for the festival is the Po Klongirai Temple. Situated within Phan Rang, it is among the most beautiful and best preserved Cham temple complexes in the country.
According to historians, the temple was built in the 13th and 14th centuries and dedicated to Po Klongirai, the Cham king who built up a prosperous and powerful kingdom in the second half of the 12th century.
In the Cham people’s memory, the story of the Po Klongirai has become a legend, with the king described as a genie born mysteriously into a Cham village with a mission to restore the glory of the Cham .
Like other Cham towers scattered across the central provinces, the complex stands on a small hill overlooking the plain, blazing with red bricks squarely and tightly placed one on another without any kind of adhesive.
It consists of a central tower, a fire tower and a gate tower which are 20, 10 and 9m tall, respectively, looking splendid and imposing against the blue sky.
The central tower looks like a pointed cylinder placed upside down, which is utterly dark inside, with just a long, narrow gate opening to the outside.
Apart from the Kate Festival, Bau Truc pottery village, whose population is purely Cham, is said to be one of the two most ancient craft villages in Southeast Asia, said Anh.
Low houses line criss-crossing lanes where women wearing ankle-length skirts with scarves around their heads sift rice, and cows pulling carts slowly amble. Life is peacefully rustic here.
“The pottery craft has been passed down through many generations, and we just follow our ancestors’ footsteps,” said Luong Thi Cuon, 50, who was busy in her home modelling earthernware alongside her two sisters.
Cuon was performing the pottery dance around a tall jar. She was spinning herself clockwise in a full circle to model the circular jar instead of using a turning tables, the former being a technique rarely found in any pottery kiln of the world.
The products are quite simple, without glazes or complex patterns, just as they were thousands of years ago. However, they are now exported to countries like the US, Japan, Germany and Thailand.
Ninh Thuan is also the homeland of salt – the salt field, the salt village and the gardens orating green grapes, are among the province’s tourism attractions.
Vo Dai, deputy chairman of Ninh Thuan People’s Committee, said the province had developed a tourism orientation plan until 2020 which included upgrading and building communication infrastructure, such as roads linking tourism sites, and four to five hotels and resorts while mobilising capital investment among investors and businesses to produce more genuine items from craft villages and specialities from grapes, sheep, and apples.
“The province has co-operated with universities in HCM City to train professionals for the tourism industry,” said Dai.
He said Ninh Thuan has given many incentives for investors, such as tax exemption for land lease, to create favourable conditions.
Recently, Ninh Thuan has approved in principle a plan by the Hong Kong-based Polo Beach International Limited Co to develop a US$4.5 billion tourism complex in the locality, Nguyen Tran Vuong, head of tourism office from the provincial department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told Viet Nam News.
The investor plans to build the Mui Dinh complex on 800ha in Phuoc Dinh Commune, Thuan Nam District. The complex will comprise of a tourism urban area, hi-end resort and tourism and trade centres.
In addition, Ninh Thuan will co-operate with six other coastal provinces, such as Nha Trang, Binh Thuan and Phu Yen, to tap their marine tourism potential.
Already a socio-economic development master plan of Ninh Thuan till 2020 has been approved by the Government. Accordingly, tourism is one of six priority economic sectors of the province.
Ninh Thuan will tap local advantages, strengths and potentials to develop highly competitive, high-quality marine tourism, ecotourism and cultural tourism.
The province will develop high-grade yachting tourism by building 100-200 marina berths at Vinh Hy Bay and Binh Son-Ninh Chu Resort and the high-class Vinh Hy-Mui Dinh Resort and develop wine-trail tourism into a Southeast Asian speciality.
The province targets 1.4 million visitors by 2015, and 3 million by 2020. — VNS
Falling in love: Chopo Waterfall in Ninh Thuan’s Bac Ai District.
Footprints in the sand: Young couples walk along Ninh Chu Beach.