A British vacation in the auto-free days of the 1950s was a simple affair. A journey by train to a seaside town, accommodation at a simple ‘bed-and-breakfast’, long days on the beach (whatever the weather) and bracing walks along the promenade.
The promenade. A wide waterfront side-walk, raised above the beach, sometimes by only a few feet. A brisk walk along the ‘prom’ was healthy, invigorating, or, more casually, a social event and a refreshing departure from the drab routine of post-war Britain.
Quy Nhon has a beautiful promenade. It extends the length of the crescent-shaped beach and fulfills all the essential requirements of an outstanding ‘prom’; wide sidewalks; lots of seating facing seaward; the minimum of visual obstruction, allowing the rest of the city to connect with the water and; excellent pedestrian access along and onto the beach. I experienced Quy Nhon’s promenade from my hotel balcony at sunrise and late at night, walking its length and enjoying it as a social gathering place.
The jet lag woke me at 5:00 am. It was still dark and the bay was dotted with the lights of fishing boats bringing home their catch. I noticed a lone walker moving with purpose along the promenade below my balcony. Then a couple, talking animatedly, stepped onto the beach. In minutes, there were people coming from all directions, across the well-kept lawns that edged the promenade and out of the nearby hotels. In the growing dawn light, I could see parties of swimmers enjoying the surf while above them, on the promenade, individuals were completing calisthenic exercises. It seemed that Quy Nhon, in a very few moments, was coming to life in a burst of energy, led by its vacationers.
There was a different kind of energy later that evening. The promenade became an informal, convivial gathering place. The walk back to the hotel, after a simple seafood dinner, was pleasant and relaxed. A low wall separated the beach from the ‘prom’, providing convenient seating. But, if that wasn’t enough, there was an endless supply of white plastic garden chairs for the many extended families intent to enjoy the warm evening and the compelling sport of people-watching. I don’t recall any commercialization of the promenade, though there may have been the odd food or soft drink vendor parked along the mile stretch that my friends and I walked.
In fact, the lack of shops or restaurants immediately adjacent to the main stretch of promenade added greatly to its charm and simplicity. Across the the road from the beach was a reasonably wide landscaped strip comprising mature trees and grass beyond which one could spy a pleasing mix of unimposing single family homes and corner shops served by their own frontage road. While the architecture was clearly Vietnamese, Quy Nhon’s promenade and its tree-lined waterfront boulevard were a legacy of the French colonial period.
It may not be too fanciful to make the connection between modern Quy Nhon and the 19th century seaside of blustery, cool Northeastern Europe, when a visit to Brighton, England or Deauville, France was described at the time as restorative, recuperative or simply ‘bracing’. I have no doubt that European families from that era would recognize and appreciate Quy Nhon’s attractive promenade, its pleasant, simple beach and the sense of wellness both physical and social that pervades it at the beginning and end of each day.