Phu Yen province encompasses a diverse landscape of mountains, rivers, lagoons and fertile plains with nearly 200 kilometres of shoreline along Vietnam's curving south-central coast. Lesser known than the beach resort town of Nha Trang, about 120 kilometres away to the south, Phu Yen is a place where visitors can still enjoy having a wide patch of golden sand to themselves.
The capital city Tuy Hoa offers a good base for exploring the beaches, bays and offshore islands up and down the coast, with an ancient tower (Nhan Cham) to see and a large seated Buddha on a hilltop just north of the city. The nearby Vung Ro Bay features a deep-sea port and a forest reserve in its surrounding hills home to a number of rare and exotic plants and animals.
Life here is laid back, with all the attractions of a seaside fishing village to enjoy -- fabulous fresh seafood and relaxing on the sands under the tropical sun, plus excursions inland to walk up the gently sloped mountains for gaining a bird's eye view of this peaceful province.
Phu Yen province has a number of natural and historic sights but it's probably best known for its beaches and bays. Long Thuy Beach features white sand and clear blue water perfect for a day of swimming, while Tuy Hoa Beach is a bit more bustling with locals enjoying a day out. Catch a boat in Vung Ro Bay and explore idyllic small islands just offshore. Boat trips may also be taken at the lovely and seafood-rich O Loan Lagoon.
Enjoy amazing wide views of the valley a sense of the region's rich history at Chua Da Trang (also called Tu Quang), the White Stone Pagoda, a place of worship since the late 18th century for Lam Te Buddhists, and at Thap Nhan Tower, a four-storey structure topped by a conical stone linga built by the Cham people in the 2nd Century BC.
A puzzling yet picturesque spot is Ganh Da Dia, the Cliff of Stone Plates, a mystifying arrangement of thousands of large stones that looks a bit like a miniature city of skyscrapers clinging to the seaside cliffs. Some locals believe it was formed in a battle between two mythical giants, while scientists theorize that it was created by a volcanic eruption millions of years ago
Though Phu Yen has few standout restaurants, there are hundreds of inexpensive places to eat in its capital Tuy Hoa and surrounding districts. Seafood is the main culinary attraction, with grilled blood clam one of the province's local specialties. Other local favourites include Hoa Da girdle cake rolled with boiled pork and raw vegetables, dit leaf sour soup, steamed glutinous rice cooked with young dove meat, ocean tuna and giant perch.
Oysters and mai fish from O Loan Lagoon are also sought after. The mai fish is made into a salad with lemon, roasted peanuts, basil, coriander, green tomatoes, green banana, star fruit and spices. All along the beach of Tuy Hoa are rustic cafes serving fresh seafood and beer, while more restaurants are found along the main highway and Tran Hung Dao street.
Those craving burgers and pizza head to Bob's Cafe' American on Nguyen Dinh Chieu street in Tuy Hoa, one of the few western restaurants in the area. Outside of the hotels, most restaurants do not have menus in English so it's good to learn the names of some of the dishes you want to try before venturing out for a meal.
Phu Yen is not exactly a nightlife centre but there are some places open after dark, mainly in the capital Tuy Hoa. The scene here is mostly relaxed, where you can savour a cold beer and listen to some live music in pubs with an open, outdoor setting.
Enjoy cocktails and wine with nice views over the glittering lights of the city at the bar on the seventeenth floor of Tuy Hoa's swankiest hotel, the CenDeluxe on Hai Duong Street. Just across the road from here is a cluster of bars and restaurants in the city's main entertainment district, Thuan Thao 25. Night-owls seeking more variety and excitement after dark head south to Nha Trang, a larger beach resort town with a wider collection of pubs, discos and bars.
Like most anywhere in Vietnam, there's no shortage of things to buy in Phu Yen. Tran Hung Dao Street is where the Tuy Hoa market plus a number of shops are located. Find souvenirs, clothing and more.
Hung Vuong Street has shopping centres among its hotels and restaurants, where one can spend and afternoon browsing and strolling this wide, pleasant avenue. Every village outside of the city has a central market where you can snap some colourful photos of local daily life scenes even if you're not there to buy the fresh produce.
One of Phu Yen's most prized products is its bird-nest soup. Made from the saliva secretions of swiftlets, the nests are harvested twice a year with some 1000 kilograms collected each year in the province. The soup is considered to help boost health and virility, and it certainly boosts the fortunes of those selling it with going rates as high as US$2000 per kilogram.
Phu Yen is the place to enjoy the great outdoors, with some fabulous terrain to cover by hiking, biking or driving its picturesque coastal highway. Along the shore line catch a local boat to explore the bays and offshore islands, while the mountains offer panoramic views of the river valley for those who make the effort to walk up to the peaks.
One of the most popular hiking spots is Nhan Mountain, with the ancient Thap Nhan Tower at the top. O Loan Lagoon is a scenic spot to enjoy sailing, kayaking and swimming, while early risers will be treated to a spectacular sunrise swim if they hit the east-coast beaches at dawn.
Catch the action of this bustling fishing town's harbour at the mouth of the Da Rang river in Tuy Hoa, where ocean tuna and other seafood is brought in to the large warehouses then chopped up, packed and prepared for overland delivery.
Located on the coast between Quy Nhon and Nha Trang, Phu Yen is easily reached by regular bus and train service, with fares from 60000 to 70000 dong. The main bus stop is on Highway 1A just outside of Tuy Hoa. From the Tuy Hoa Train Station at 149 Le Trung Kien road, catch a Reunification Express train to Danang (eight hours, 160000 dong), Nha Trang (two-and-a-half hours, 48000 dong) and other destinations.
From the Dong Tac domestic airport, about eight kilometres away from Tuy Hoa's centre, there are several flights a week on Vietnam Airlines connecting Tuy Hoa and Ho Chi Minh City. In 2009, Vietnam Airlines introduced a new service to Hanoi, with three flights a week between the northern capital and Tuy Hoa.
The year 2011 is an exciting one for Phu Yen, since it has been selected to host a number of sports, cultural and arts activities for the country's National Tourism Year program, including a yacht race and international choir festival. Visitor numbers are expected to rise and the province is pushing for more frequent air and train services to attract more tourists. On April 1, the province celebrated the 400th year of its establishment.