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.
Plans to create more of a tourist infrastructure were underway as of our visit. All the places on the prime beachfront strip along An Duong Vuong St have been demolished to make way for upscale development -- including Barabara's Backpackers, though Barbara's Kiwi Connection on Xuan Dieu remains open for business.
If you choose to make a stop here, there are some Cham Towers within easy reach, and a day trip to the watery town of Song Cau to the south makes sense. The local food is decent, though the only western food available is at Barbara's. It's the de facto centre of things for Western tourists, and even if you're not staying there, it makes sense to stop in for a bite, some conversation, and to get some information.
Easily reached by plane, train and bus, it's surprising that more people don't choose to spend more than the absolute minimum in the province -- it straddles the coastal highway, with Quang Ngai to the north and Tuy Hoa, then Nha Trang to the south, and this is one of the easiest points to veer off into the Central Highlands.
If you've got the time and a disposition for seafood, then you could do a lot worse then spending a day or two here.
Qui Nhon is located on a peninsula with Tran Hung Dao St running east-west along it's spine. The tip of the peninsula is given over to a series of ports, so most of the useful area to explore lies to the west of Barbara's Kiwi Connection. The bay is filled with fishing boats, but not so many that the water is too messy for swimming. Accommodation is spread out all over the place.
For banking, you'd best head to the Vietcom Bank at the intersection of Le Loi and Tran Hung Dao. There's a full-range of services there, including the cashing of travellers' cheques for 1.1% commission, and credit card advances. Otherwise there are ATMS all over town -- avoid Agribank and Dong A Bank -- they don't take foreign cards. There's a BIDV ATM in front of the Saigon-Qui Nhon (Nguyen Hue St at the corner of Le Thanh Ton), and a Vietcombank ATM in front of the Seagull Hotel by the water on An Duong Vuong.
Internet is widely available at 3 or 4,000 dong per hour, but we found the best place to go (though far from the most convenient) was the Main Post Office on Phan Boi Chao -- they have about twenty decent terminals on the second floor, its relatively quiet, and only costs 2,000 dong per hour.
For travel information, head straight to Barbara's Kiwi Connection. When Barbara's not there, the staff can be a bit clueless, so ask to see their information book. They do speak English fairly well though, so if you're persistent, you can get things sorted out. They know all the local guides and they also rent motorbikes for US$10 a day.
The Vietnam Airlines ticket office is on 55 Le Hong Phong, not far from Nguyen Hue. The airport is located 35 km to the north of the city.
Don't forget to check out the Saigon-Quynhon Hotel even if you're not staying there. You can use the pool for 20,000 VND a day, they have a good legit massage service with a fine sauna, steam bath, Jacuzzi combo, and you can always sneak into one of their classy cafe/bar/restaurants. They won't kick you out. Just act like you have money.
Barbara's Kiwi Connection: 19 Xuan Dieu, Qui Nhon. T: (056) 892 921, (0905) 108 589. nzbarb @ yahoo dot com
Main Post Office: 19 Phan Boi Chau, Qui Nhon. T: (056) 821 441, F: (056) 825 098. Hours: 07:00 to 21:00 daily
Vietnam Airlines: 55 Le Hong Phong, Qui Nhon. T: (056) 825 313. Hours: 07:30 to 11:30, 13:30 to 16:30
Vietcom Bank: 152 Le Loi St, Qui Nhon. T: (056) 822 408. Hours: 07:00 to 11:00, 13:30 to 16:30 weekdays, Saturday 08:00 to 11:00
By Don Morgan.