Phu Yen province plays second fiddle to Khanh Hoa to the south, with the tourist magnet of Nha Trang as its main draw. You may catch a glimpse of Phu Yen's mountains, rice fields and wide lagoons while in transit -- the views are especially good from the train (if you happen to be awake when you pass through). But what most passers-by don't realise is that just over the horizon to the east is 189km of coastline, some incredible natural beauty, and so many gorgeous, deserted beaches the Vietnamese don't know what to do with them all.
Very little infrastructure exists, and the people still make their living primarily off the sea. The fish praying festival, every lunar March, is the main annual event -- a three-day marathon of feasting and supplication to the 'Gods of the Sea' for a safe and profitable catch. In the heavily-forested interior of the province can be found 30 different ethnic minorities, including some villages that specialise in weaving and pottery, and half a million square kilometres dedicated to forestry, the profits from which, presumably, quickly leave the province after being made.
The provincial capital Tuy Hoa is hardly a pleasure palace, and it's not set up for western tourists -- at all -- it's barely set up for Vietnamese tourists. The major tourist development here is the Eco and Entertainment Centre, which lies 2.5km west of the beach, on highway 1A, and we're still trying to figure out exactly what the name means, since it isn't all that entertaining, nor in any appreciable way ecological.
There are only two hotels on the beach itself, and neither is a particularly good deal -- the places along the highway are a better choice, though truck noise can be a problem.
But, don't write the place off just yet.
If you love to go up real high and look way down, Tuy Hoa has two great options in town and one just to the south. There's Nui Bao Thap, a 14-th century Cham tower that sits high on a hill in the centre of town, Chop Chai Mountain along Route 1A -- a steep, 300 metre ascent with some truly amazing views of the ocean, the endless patchwork of rice fields, and the mountains in the distance, and 27km outside of town to the south is Da-Bia -- an unusually-shaped rock standing alone on top of a hill -- most tourists only get a glimpse of it, but it's an easy climb to get up-close-and-personal with the monolith, and be treated to the best views of all.
The surrounding areas provide a much more convincing reason to give this province a visit: Vung Ro Bay, which is slated for development at some point as a resort location, is breathtakingly beautiful. Da-Bia, otherwise known as Gravestone Mountain, 27km to the south, provides a good day trip -- as well as a great view of the surrounding countryside and the sea. Dai Lanh Beach, ten kilometres further south, is not recommended for an overnight, but is a beautiful location nonetheless. Add to that one amazing, deserted beach after another where you'll find hardly a footprint in the sand.
By Don Morgan.