Hoi An to Quy Nhon: Exploring top iconic destinations of Central Vietnam | Travel

Hoi An to Quy Nhon: Exploring top iconic destinations of Central Vietnam | Travel

During the post-Covid era, Vietnam has blossomed as one of the most popular destinations for Indian holidaymakers because of its lively atmosphere, reasonable cost structure, and diverse range of attractions that stretch from history and nature to endless shopping and culinary indulgences, including Indian delicacies. Not to be ignored as a significant motivator is the availability of direct flights from Indian cities to the capital Hanoi and commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City offered by Vietnam Airlines, one of the world’s highly rated four-star carriers. I am a fan of this South-east Asian nation. I have been there several times in the past, mainly to the northern and southern parts of this ‘S’-shaped nation, covering the capital Hanoi, mountainous Sapa, World Heritage-listed Ha Long Bay, naturally stunning Ninh Binh, and thriving Ho Chi Minh City. (Also read: The 25 best things to do in Vietnam)

Exploring two iconic destinations in the central part of the country, the ancient port city of Hoi An and the modern beach city of Quy Nhon, which is fast emerging as a popular vacation destination for lovers of sun, sea, and sand.(Sandip Hor)

I was back there recently, this time to connect antiquity with modernity while exploring two iconic destinations in the central part of the country, the ancient port city of Hoi An and the modern beach city of Quy Nhon, which is fast emerging as a popular vacation destination for lovers of sun, sea, and sand.

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Hoi An, a melting pot of cultures

Hoi An is a 2000-year-old river port settlement. It was founded by the Champa or Cham dynasty monarchs in the 2nd century AD(Sandip Hor)
Hoi An is a 2000-year-old river port settlement. It was founded by the Champa or Cham dynasty monarchs in the 2nd century AD(Sandip Hor)

Tucked on the banks of the Thu Bon River, Hoi An is a 2000-year-old river port settlement. It was founded by the Champa or Cham dynasty monarchs in the 2nd century AD and achieved zenith as a massive maritime hub between the 4th and 13th centuries when the Cham Kingdom ruled the seaside region, now part of central Vietnam.

Merchants from China, India, Persia, Japan, and Europe in large numbers sailed there to buy and sell spices, silk, jewellery, and other merchandise. Some of the traders never went back to their country of origin; their permanent stay made Hoi An a melting pot of cultures. Many centuries have gone by, but Hoi An has managed to preserve much of its old-time character. It is this distinct feature that draws tourists and inspired UNESCO in 1999 to declare it a World Heritage Site.

“The best way to soak up the charms of Hoi An is by walking along the riverfront and adjoining alleyways,” advised the receptionist at the time of checking in at the Anantara Hoi An Resort, where serenity blends with contemporary elements of hospitality to provide guests with a memorable experience. She was not wrong. Hoi An gripped me with its antique charisma the moment I stepped out of the resort. I felt like wandering in an outdoor museum where several old buildings, built between the 15th and 19th centuries, reflected the artistic taste of their builders, principally Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and French. I didn’t miss the Japanese Bridge, the touristy icon of the town. It’s the only covered bridge in the world to house a Buddhist temple. A local told me it’s so relevant to the nation’s heritage that it’s depicted on a Vietnam currency note.

Japanese Bridge, the touristy icon of the town, is the only covered bridge in the world to house a Buddhist temple. (Sandip Hor)
Japanese Bridge, the touristy icon of the town, is the only covered bridge in the world to house a Buddhist temple. (Sandip Hor)

Exploring the temple remains of My Son

While Hoi An was a commercial hub for the Cham rulers, their religious epicentre was My Son, a green valley located 45km from Hoi An. Between the 4th and 13th centuries, they built a series of temples with Hindu consciousness, which was introduced to the royals by the visiting traders from India. Over time, many of their works of art were lost to natural disasters and historical changes; only around 70 of them existed when the Cham era declined in the early 19th century. Unfortunately, the unattended edifices got hidden by the thick bushland, and the world lost them for almost a century until a French scholar discovered them in 1898 and unveiled to the modern generation the architectural glories of a lost kingdom.

Some of the temples were heavily damaged by the American bombing during the Vietnam War but have now been gracefully restored to their original glory(Sandip Hor)
Some of the temples were heavily damaged by the American bombing during the Vietnam War but have now been gracefully restored to their original glory(Sandip Hor)

Organised by the resort, I went to My Son as a half-day excursion. With the help of an omniscient guide, I went past the temple remains, some fully intact and others partially. Orange-coloured bricks with stone pillars were used for their construction, but what amazed me was the absence of any mortar holding the bricks together yet lasting heat and dust for so many centuries. The bas-reliefs on the temple exteriors, depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, are very interesting. They appealed to me like poetry on stone. Some of the temples were heavily damaged by the American bombing during the Vietnam War but have now been gracefully restored to their original glory by the authorities with the assistance of the Indian government.

Quy Nhon, Central Vietnam’s hottest destination

Located 300 km south of Hoi An, Quy Nhon is presently the country’s hottest destination. While its beach-blessed shoreline is a major lure for visitors, I felt its appeal comes from its ‘not-so-busy environment’, unlike eventful Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. This feeling gripped me while I was doing nothing but gazing at the blue sea from my private poolside desk at the plush Anantara Quy Nhon Villas, another modern staying option that provides a tranquil space for guests to soul-charge their urban minds.

Since the 10th century, the Cham Kings were stationed for nearly half a millennium where Quy Nhon dots today. To fulfil their religious quest, they built Hindu temples here as well, some of which still exist. Most prominent are the two located in the heart of the city. Built circa the 12th century, both of them, like their equals in My Son, turned out to be a visual feast for me. There are a few more temples located outside the city limits; the four at Banh It on a hilltop location inspired similar awe.

Though the Cham kingdom and its sovereignty are buried in pages of history books, Cham people still live in Vietnam. They are officially recognised by the Vietnamese government as one of 54 ethnic groups. Many of them have adopted Islam, which was introduced to the people by traders from the Arab world during the latter part of the Cham era.

The fascinating rail travel from Hoi An to Qui Nhon

Accommodating only twelve guests, this epic rail adventure connects history with nature, embracing luxury throughout the entire journey. (Sandip Hor)
Accommodating only twelve guests, this epic rail adventure connects history with nature, embracing luxury throughout the entire journey. (Sandip Hor)

Besides cherishing the attractions of the two cities and the architectural wonders of a forgotten kingdom, another highly rewarding experience for me was the six-hour rail travel from Hoi An to Qui Nhon in ‘The Vietage by Anantara’, which is a custom-built luxurious rail carriage that’s connected daily to a regular Vietnam Railway train railing daily from nearby Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City in the south.

Accommodating only twelve guests, this epic rail adventure connects history with nature, embracing luxury throughout the entire journey. In addition to offering spectacular rural views of Central Vietnam, I was indulged with a nonstop serving of the best quality hot, cold, and alcoholic beverages, snacks, a three-course gourmet lunch with choices, and a fifteen-minute body massage.

Derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “without end”, the word ‘Anantara’ embraces the excitement of discovery and the vibrant energy of new horizons. This was proven to me while staying at their resorts in Hoi An and Quy Nhon and during the train journey connecting the two.

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