As Good As Vietnam Gets
Counting Blessings (And Birds) On The Central Coast
At the teebox on the spectacular 16th hole at Danang Golf Club, Anthony Gill watched yet another silver bird swoop in from the north, bound for the nearby Danang International Airport. Then he took aim at a flag set against the sparkling East Sea, lofted one into a cerulean sky, and grinned as the ball hit and rolled to within a club-length.
“That, my friends, was number 122,” he said, extending his wedge toward the jet.
“You’re having a terrible round, I know,” said one of his foursome, clearly disgusted by his friend’s success.
“Jets, mate,” said Gill. “I’m talking jets. That’s the 122nd international flight to come into Danang this week.”
Gill’s keeping track. A year into his stint as chairman of the Central Coast Vietnam, a destination marketing initiative that’s just redesigned and relaunched its website (http://centralcoastvietnam.com), the Newcastle, England native still can’t quite believe his good fortune. Three years ago, he took over as general manager at The Nam Hai, Vietnam’s most acclaimed beach resort. Back then, there were fewer than 20 international flights coming into Danang International weekly, and today there are some 150. A second international airport terminal opens in September. And every few weeks, it seems, there’s the revelation of some far-flung city that’s planning a direct link to Danang.
“As a younger man, I used to worry about not being in the right place at the right time,” said Gill, standing later that evening in The Bar at The Nam Hai. “I never worry about that anymore.”
Outside, soft spring twilight was settling on pools that dropped in tiers from a hipped roof pavilion to the ample sands of Ha My Beach. There was a man down there, walking with a long board under arm. The Cham Islands floated on the near-horizon, hovering magically, it seemed, just off the surface.
“Fantastic snorkeling,” he said. “Just fantastic.”
Over drinks, and then through dinner, the destination took shape in his storytelling like a latter-day Shangri-La. There was the East Asian wonderland of palaces and pagodas in Hue, the one-time imperial capital of Hue, where he’d lived for two years. There is the Old Town of Hoi An, an exquisitely preserved seaport that looks like something out of the 17th Century. There was the 15-kilometer stretch of sand that runs by his resort, and that Forbes once hailed as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. There is the world-class golf at Danang Golf Club and Montgomerie Links, a few Bubba Watson-length drives from his front door; a Nick Faldo course at Laguna on the way to Hue; and a new course opening at Ba Na beneath a one-time colonial French hill station.
“And the natural splendor,” he said at last, “if that’s your thing, and it should be.”
Out at My Son one day, he said he stood amidst the ruins of an ancient Cham temple complex in the bowl of a verdant valley, marveling at the genius of people all those years ago, who knew that beauty mattered. “There’s so much going on here, you forget just how naturally beautiful this place is,” he said.
Gill, who carries the North of England in his speech still, moved to the Central Coast in 2010, ostensibly for professional reasons but moreover because he had prospected the region after showing up in Vietnam in 2007, and found there was everything he wanted within a two-hour spin on his motorcycle: the mountains, Danang (Vietnam’s most dynamic city), the beach, the golf, the villages that told him he wasn’t in Northumberland anymore, and a people just waking up to the wider world after decades of war and post-war privation.
His enthusiasm for the region is contagious, and you wonder, speaking with Gill, whether relocation just might be the best move. “The food,” he said at one point. “The lightness, the simplicity, the presentation. This alone…” he says, trailing off, and I knew what he meant.
In the meantime, there were guests to greet. They’re coming in, he said, on 133.
“At 1:33 this afternoon?” I asked.
“No mate,” he said. “On 133 – the hundred thirty-third flight of the week.”