Explore a paradise behind Da Dia Reef

First time coming to Gành Đá Dĩa (Da Dia Reef), a national landscape vestige in  Phu Yen province, I was much liken to a scaredy-cat, too fearful of missing my footing to stand up and savor the picturesque gift Mother Nature offered to the Vietnam’s central coastal land. Two days later, coming back unexpectedly to that famous destination –  as a tour guide to a foreigner – several things came to thrill me and that surprisingly transformed me into a very different person who enjoyed climbing over reefs and playing with big waves crashing from the East Sea as if nothing had been able to scare me. Why suddenly I broke my rule of being a lone wolf in my solitude finding vacation?

Without venturing into the place behind Da Dia Reef, never did I know of such a pleasant place. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

Without venturing into the place behind Da Dia Reef, never did I know of such an eye-pleasing place. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

Getting back from Dai Lanh Cape via the tortuous and busy Deo Ca (Ca Pass) to Tuy Hoa city, over 1 p.m. (please see the blog titled “Venture into picturesque Phu Yen”), Uncle Seven, my local motorbike driver, and I dropped by the restaurant across from the hotel I have stayed for lunch. Following what he called an exorbitant but unappetizing meal, his Honda Wave headed to Da Dia Reef, my second and last destination of my Phu Yen trip when the clock on the wall facing the hotel’s reception pointed at 2:30 p.m., one and a half hours before his deadline of 4 p.m. beyond which he said I must pay him extra fees excluding the gas for his vehicle.

For many people, it might be unpleasing to explore only two places in a five-day trip. That didn’t matter to me, at least in this journey. As I said earlier, I wanted to lead an old-fashioned life in order to fully enjoy my own trip and find some solitude. I have been fed up with what I called “run traveling” – the common practice of trying to explore as many destinations as possible in a vacation. I wanted to “go traveling,” gradually absorbing what catches my eyes along my way.

Back to our journey to Da Dia Reef via the National Highway N0 1. On our way there, Uncle Seven offered another bonus to me: stopping at another well-known national landscape owned by Phu Yen: Đầm Ô Loan (O Loan Lagoon) whose beauty, as far as I learned, has inspired a number of Vietnamese poets. Sitting at the foot of Đèo Quán Cau (Quan Cau Pass), 25km away from Tuy Hoa, the 17.5 square-kilometer-wide lagoon is reportedly home to a bunch of local seafood, especially blood cockles. Never did I think that I would taste O Loan specialties right in the lagoon two days later.

When I was looking down O Loan Lagoon from the national highway, I did dream to be inside it once. Guess what, that dream came true just two days later thanks to Cuong, the taxi driver who picked me up from the airport. Photo credit: Uncle Seven

When I was looking down O Loan Lagoon from the national highway, I did dream to be inside it once. Guess what, that dream came true just two days later thanks to Cuong, the taxi driver who picked me up from the airport. Photo credit: Uncle Seven

I have a yummy lunch at a restaurant sitting inside O Loan Lagoon. Photo: Max Falkenberg

I have a yummy lunch at a restaurant sitting inside O Loan Lagoon in an unexpected trip two days later. Photo: Max Falkenberg

Though the distance from Tuy Hoa to Da Dia Reef is less than 60km, it took nearly one and a half hours to get there due to the dense and risky traffic on the National Highway N0 1. When we got closer to our destination, about 5km away, I noticed along the way stand several houses whose front hedges were made by flat, rectangle-shaped stones stacked one another and ancient tombs made only from those strange stones. As Uncle Seven explained, that practice came into being more than 100 years old and resulted from the unavailability of cement then.

It is interesting to learn of the origin of this strange type of rocks. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

It is interesting to learn of the origin of this strange type of rocks. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

After more than 90 minutes, we reached Da Dia Reef when the only drink stall there was about to close and the Toyota car which I assumed brought tourists to Da Dia Reef was about to leave. The sunset started to fall. Under the guide of Uncle Seven, I walked toward our destination with eagerness which, out of the sudden, plummeted when I caught the sight of thousands of pentagonal black rocks. I flinched from the fear of accidentally falling down into the rocks and continuously crashing big waves. My fear picked up steam so quickly that I could do nothing but sat down at where I was sitting. That surprised my driver.

–       Come on, Chau. Look, suddenly you became a scared mouse.

–         I just can’t move my legs, Uncle.

–         You were so courageous at the top of the lighthouse this morning. No one could stop you then.

–         I know. But I can’t manage to stand. It is okay to sit here.

–         The path down to the stones is very safe there, I can guarantee. Why you give up when you are just few more steps from your beloved destination. Don’t tell me now you dislike taking pictures.

–         Please go exploring yourself. You see I can sit here taking photos.

–         Oh no, a very brave girl who came to this far-off land herself that I admired a lot suddenly vanishes into thin air.

No doubt that Da Dia Reef deserves to be named Vietnam's Natural Landscape Vestige. Photo credit: Uncle Seven

No doubt that Da Dia Reef deserves to be named Vietnam’s Natural Landscape Vestige. Photo credit: Uncle Seven

With the patient encouragement from Uncle Seven who told me that I paid him to take me to enjoy the beauty of Phu Yen not to sit like a scaredy-cat, at last I managed to crawl slowly down to my favorite landscape on a very rough rock path. Seeing how scarily I was crawling, he couldn’t help but laughing. The reef range looked so quite with only Uncle Seven, me and two men sitting shoulder by shoulder with their faces fronting the sea. Due to my growing fear, I continued to sit down on the reef, eying around and taking photos.

I feel safer sitting and enjoying the natural beauty. Photo credit: Uncle Seven

I feel safer sitting and enjoying the natural beauty. Photo credit: Uncle Seven

Wait, there was a very short moment I managed to stand up so that Uncle Seven can photography me with big waves crashing onto the rocks. Right after that, he urged me to get home since he said he was not good at driving at night, especially on a busy highway.

It was the furthest place I dared to set my foot in. Photo credit: Uncle Seven

I just dared to stand up at where I sat. It was the furthest place I dared to set my foot in. Photo credit: Uncle Seven

Before saying goodbye to Da Dia Reef, I made a lot of wishes. I wished I could walk around the rocks. I wished I could sit on the rocks enjoyably as the two men were doing. I wish I could climb to the top of the reef. I wish I could walk to the tip of the reef. I wished I could play with big waves crashing against the rocks. I wished I could explore beige rock reefs lying behind Da Dia Reef. To sum up, I wished I would feel fearless facing that stunning landscape.

I wished I could be able to sit as comfortably and far as these two men. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

I wished I could be able to sit as comfortably and far as these two men. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

One thing never did I think was that I would return to it and that all my wishes were realized just two days later. C’est la vie! We never know what’ll come up next. All I can say that that was a really entertaining trip which helped me to find myself and proved to me a common belief that “If they can do it, so can you.”

On my way back to Tuy Hoa, I asked Uncle Seven to stop for a moment for me to take a photo of this beautiful dam which he said killed several people from the other side of the dam recently. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

On my way back to Tuy Hoa, I asked Uncle Seven to stop for a moment for me to take a photo of this beautiful dam which he said killed several people from the other side when they walked over the dam recently. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Get thrilled at the paradise behind Da Dia Reef

I came back to Da Dia Reef unexpectedly on the date I was booked to leave Phu Yen, on the date that I intended to have a good rest before getting home. My decision stemmed from the fact that I just wanted to introduce one of the locally magnificent destinations to a foreigner whom I at first mistook for a tourist whom I happened to sit opposite at the airport, happened to stay near on the same floor of the same hotel and happened to dine with in the same food shop.

Thanks to the company of my new friend who has worked in Vinh Long and Soc Trang, the neighboring provinces of my home city of Can Tho before heading to Phu Yen, I enjoyed myself at Da Dia Reef in my second trip and explored what I called a paradise right behind it.

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

It was interesting to know a local  fishing village facing the East Sea where local fishmen go fishing on what we call "thuyen thung", a traditional fishing boat looking like a huge, round bamboo weaving basket. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

It was interesting to know a local fishing village facing the East Sea where local fishermen go fishing on what we call “thuyen thung”, a traditional fishing boat looking like a huge, round bamboo weaving basket. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

This is the first time I touch "thuyền thúng." Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

This is the first time I touch “thuyền thúng.” Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

It would be a waste if one came to a fishing village without any talk to its fishermen. I have learned a lot after a few chats with the two young men who just returned from the sea after several hours fishing on the round, bamboo boats.

I came to chat with local young fishmen to learn about their fishing on the East Sea. Photo: Max Falkenberg

I came to chat with local young fishermen to learn about their fishing on the East Sea. Photo: Max Falkenberg

Untangling their fishing nets was the last step before they closed their fishing day which usually starts at 4 a.m.

Untangling their fishing nets was the last step before they closed their fishing day which usually starts at 4 a.m. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

My favorite photo. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

My favorite photo. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

I spent more than one hour walking around the beige low reefs. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

I spent more than one hour walking around the beige low reefs. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

Never did I get bored at looking at the sea which I liken as our lives which are sometimes so peaceful but sometimes get so tough if not fatal if we fail to manage with great care.

Never get bored at looking at the sea which is likened by me like life, sometimes very peaceful, sometimes very tough. Photo: Max Falkenberg

I feel peaceful in mind looking at the sea. Photo: Max Falkenberg

Get addicted to untiring dance of the East Sea

Though looking fierce when they were running against the rocks or the shore, big waves as my friend called from the East Sea got me so addicted watching them that I spent nearly an hour shooting as many photos as I could. So did my friend to whom I was so grateful for pleasing my request by standing waiting for big waves so that I could have photos with waves splashing into rocks in the background.

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Climb to one of the tops of Da Dia Reef

Though I felt much confident in the role of a tour guide when getting back to Da Dia Reef, I didn’t think of climbing to its top. My friend kept challenging me with a promise “to push you up.” Thanks to his encouragement and the presence of local kids who climbed high rocks like monkeys, I made a strive when we walked back to Da Dia Reef.

On the way back. we met a group of students from Phu Yen University, picnicking on a big rock close to the land. They told me that they first came here. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

On the way back. we met a group of students from Phu Yen University, picnicking on a big rock close to the land. They told me that they first came here. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

Just few people dared to stand on the Da Dia Reef. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Just few people dared to stand on the top of Da Dia Reef. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

These kids helped me a lot in conquering my fear. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

These kids helped me a lot in conquering my fear. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Yay, I make it. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

Yay, I make it. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

The close company of local boys and girls was an encouragement to a scaredy-cat like me. Photo: Max Falkenberg

The close company of local boys and girls was an encouragement to a scaredy-cat like me. Photo: Max Falkenberg

Yes, I top the second-highest top of Da Dia Reef. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

Yes, I top the second-highest top of Da Dia Reef. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

I am so thankful to them, my encouragement sources. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

I am so thankful to them, my encouragement sources. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

Dance with big waves

After exploring behind Da Dia Reef, climbing over beige rocks in front of the fishing village, topping one of its two summits, the last things I wanted to do before my departure was to walk to the tip of Da Dia Reef and playing with splashing waves. Again with the encouraging company of my friend, I made the moments with Da Dia Reef as unforgettable and entertaining as I could.

I walked as if nothing to fear. Photo: Max Falkenberg

I walked as if nothing to fear, the thing that I didn’t dare to do in my first visit two days prior. Photo: Max Falkenberg

Never did I dare to think that I could walk to that far. Good job! Photo credit: Mai Ngoc Chau

Never did I dare to think that I could walk that far. Good job! Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

The addiction to watch big waves keeps my fear of death away unknowingly. Photo: Max Falkenberg

The addiction to watch big waves keeps my fear of death away unknowingly. Photo: Max Falkenberg

Without my friend's patience, I could have such stunning photos. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

Without my friend’s patience, I could have no such stunning photos. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

This time, the cold waves did scare me. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

This time, the cold waves did scare me. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

A short rest. Photo: Max Falkenberg

A short rest. Photo: Max Falkenberg

One of the final photos before leaving Da Dia Reef. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

One of the final photos before leaving Da Dia Reef. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

The rocks stack like steps leading to the upper ground. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

The rocks stack like steps leading to the upper ground. Photo credit: Max Falkenberg

The seaside on the right of Da Dia Reef looks so appealing. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

The seaside on the right of Da Dia Reef looks so appealing. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

After three and a half hours savoring Da Dia Reef and its surroundings, I departed from the must-visit destination of Phu Yen province after purchasing several shells at a bargain price from the kids who have awaited patiently me from the moment I revisited the reef and finishing a mug of refreshing coconut juice from a smiling woman who served Uncle Seven and me last time with her coconuts. On the way back to Tuy Hoa on a new road which is just 39 km away from the city, under the instruction of Cuong who charged us 600,000 VND (less than 30 USD) for the two-way trip to Da Dia Reef on his taxi, we stopped by a restaurant inside O Loan Lagoon to enjoy its specialties: grilled squids, grilled blood cockles, porridge with oysters and scallions, and white hard clams in the chilly and windy mid-afternoon.

The second trip back to Da Dia Reef turned out to be a perfect ending of my vacation in Phu Yen which I would revisit someday for sure. On the way back to Sai Gon late that afternoon, I got a text message from my new friend which read “… I would never have seen that beautiful place and experienced so delicious meals without you. … And I think it might be the best way of traveling and experiencing things and foreign cultures.” His words rejoiced me and helped prove that I can become a tourist guide and proved the acknowledged truth that our country is one of the world’s most beautiful nations.

The very reason I took him to Da Dia Reef on my last day in Phu Yen was that I wanted to disprove what his friend said to him before his first working trip to Vietnam. He said the friend told him that Vietnam is not beautiful at all and said he should travel to Cambodia instead. Hearing that with a bit frustration, I believed that that person hasn’t ever been to Vietnam. I wanted him to experience the stunning beauty of Vietnam and to tell his friend what he has experienced in Phu Yen when he got back home. I wanted him to help spread Vietnam’s natural beauty to the world given that his job requires him to travel in many parts of the world.

Never did I think that being his guide helped me become stronger and helped partially treat my acrophobia and helped prove to myself that I am still strong in mind following several unforeseen ups and downs in the passing year.

It looks so scary. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

It looks so scary. Photo: Mai Ngoc Chau

(Phu Yen, January 2014)

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