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As one looks upon the virgin beauty of Ninh Van Bay it is hard to imagine it was once the site of fierce fighting during the American War.

My friends and I travelled to Ninh Van Bay on a glorious day. The morning was just dawning, the sunlight starting to wander on the sea. With the clouds drifting and bobbing. I was sitting on the car taking in the seascape before my eyes. The way to the bay is like the dress of a pretty girl who is lying on the sand and wallowing in the beauty of the sea. I was really eager to explore the bay, one of the most beautiful areas of Khanh Hoa Province.

Ninh Van Bay is located on Ninh Hoa District’s Hon Heo Peninsula. It is about 60km from Nha Trang City, and it took us about 20 minutes to reach the bay by boat. The bay is famous for its natural beauty, with fabulous coral reefs, white sand beaches and an impressive mountain backdrop. Its natural charms have enticed many investors to build luxurious resorts, which help visitors escape from city life.

From far off, Ninh Van Bay has a quaint air about it. Small wooden houses line the beach, perched on rocks or hills that bring a sense of calm to the landscape.

However, this region of Ninh Hoa Town was the location of brutal fighting during the war. It was deemed the perfect place for a resistance base because of its rugged mountainous terrain, many reefs and narrow harbour passages.

Although few people know that Ninh Van Bay was a maritime base of the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” on the sea, local residents are proud of its history, which includes a fierce naval battle between liberation forces and US and Sai Gon ships and aircraft. An officer of the liberation navy, Nguyen Phan Vinh, captained a ship in the skirmish.

On March 1, 1968, Vinh’s ship reached Hon Heo Peninsula to unload weapons and other supplies intended for Khanh Hoa’s combatants, and came under attack suddenly by enemy ships. Instead of surrendering, Vinh ordered his crew to ready themselves for a fight. Ultimately, his vessel was destroyed along with 13 of the crew who sacrificed themselves for their mission.

Pham Thi Huong, a long-time resident of Ninh Hoa Town’s Ninh Thuy Commune, says that a few days after the boat exploded, around 9,000 enemy soldiers were sent to mop up the area.

“We all avoided capture and found five survivors from the battle the next day,” she recalls.

The image of Vinh’s ship anchored in Ninh Van Bay still lingers in the minds of many local people. They are now fighting a new war against poverty and are determined to develop their town into a successful tourist destination.

You can see the evidence of their victory in the many tall buildings and spacious houses that differentiate Ninh Van from other coastal areas in Viet Nam. Even as nearby as Van Phong Bay’s Son Dung Island – one of Asia’s most beautiful beaches about 20km from Ninh Hoa Town – the economic situation is demonstrably worse. There are only 30 people on that island, which offers another striking contrast with busy Ninh Van Bay.

Chair woman of Ninh Van Commune Tra Thi Bong Sen says that “in the past, travel to Ninh Hoa Town was inconvenient and difficult, but today a new road links our commune with others in the region. When the road opens, we will begin the implementation phase of four more projects”.

During the war, Ninh Van was home to only five families, but now there are nearly 400 households of about 1,700 people. Residents mainly cultivate garlic, cashews, beef and seafood, as well as engage in the tourism industry. According to Sen, a household cultivating garlic can earn an average profit of VND300 million (US$14,285) per hectare.

In the future, Ninh Van Bay is looking to continue developing its tourism potential, and is welcoming further investment from companies, organisations and individuals.

Ninh Van has tranformed itself completely in recent years: the bay looks like a girl wearing a new dress. It has pulled itself out of poverty and recovered from war to become a kind of paradise. Visiting Ninh Van, I was really overwhelmed by the sight of it all.

While there, I visited the Six Senses Hideaway Resort, which gestures towards Vietnamese culture with its huts thatched with coconut leaves, set against the clear blue lake. The calm atmosphere can lull you to sleep and it is an ideal hideaway from the chaos of modern life. If you walk just a short way from the bungalows, you can dip your toes in the water and look out at the coral reef.

The resort offers a variety of accommodation. “Beach villas”, according to the Ninh Van Bay Holiday Club, are perfect for people who wish to wake up in the early morning with the view of naupaka trees and explore the preserved coral reefs close to shore. “Hilltop villas” are nestled against the cliffs within the lush forest, offering a more secluded experience. And finally, sited on forbidding granite stone boulders, are the “villas over the sea” that allow guests to “merge with the vast ocean and whispering waves”.

As transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson from USA wrote: “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”

The sea has transformed the lives of Ninh Van residents, first through war and now through tourism, and it will be a crucial part of their future, ushering in economic growth with its gentle waves.

This article is written by lan nguyen from Vacation to Vietnam


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