Sandals in my hands, I wade in the waters of Sam Son Beach, under the sparkling stars. Thousands of waves crash on my legs as I walk through the shallow water. It's so nice to feel the sand under my feet while listening to the waves hum soft melodies. The wind caresses my hair, making me forget the day's burning heat.
At 9pm, the beach becomes even more immense with the rising tide. I meet other tourists who, like me, love strolling along the seaside, alone or in groups. Some stand quietly to admire the beach at night, while others shout joyfully, trying to jump over the waves. Another group spends their time taking photos of each other.
I am at Sam Son Beach, 180km south of Ha Noi and 16km from central Thanh Hoa City. After travelling four hours by bus from the Giap Bat station in Southern Ha Noi, I finally found myself surrounded by the fresh air of the beach, known as one of the most crowded tourist sites in northern Viet Nam.
The beach was first discovered by French colonists more than 100 years ago. It became a resort in 1906 when the French began to build facilities here for civil servants and officials. Emperor Bao Dai, the last king of the Nguyen dynasty, also built his own villa.
Since then, the 6km-long beach quickly became one of Indochina's most popular holiday resorts. It extends from the estuary of Lach Hoi to the foot of Truong Le Mountain. The last ten years have seen the construction of many holiday villas, hotels and restaurants.
One of my favourite activities in Sam Son is to welcome the sunrise at dawn. But the late afternoon is also beautiful. I love to walk along the beach's soft sand coastline with bare feet while looking at the sea. Life is surprisingly calm at those moments. I enjoy watching the children build castles on sand and fly kites in the sky. Not only children, but adults too. Many beautiful memories of childhood suddenly float back to my mind like the kites sailing in the pure blue sky.
But it's sad to see that not everyone has a happy childhood. In Sam Son, I met some children who were forced to spend their summer vacation selling kites to earn some money, while their parents worked at another place. Travelling is indeed a good way to get a glimpse into the daily lives of local people.
When I get tired of walking, I sit on a long chair, facing the sea. It's an ideal place to relax while admiring the beach. If you go, don't forget to drink coconut juice, a local speciality. It's not very expensive – one coconut costs only VND30,000 (US$1,5). The seats here are not free, though. We had to pay VND20,000 for one seat.
Sam Son is also known for delicious seafood. Make sure to taste local favourites like crab, oyster, prawn, tuna, and cuttle fish.
I bought home nem chua (fermented pork roll), another famous speciality of Thanh Hoa Province.
Eternal: The Trong Mai Rocks, located 2km from Sam Son Beach, are a symbol of faithful love.
Not surprisingly, thanks to its unique charm and attraction, Sam Son has attracted more and more Vietnamese and foreign tourists. According to the province's tourism department, in 2011, the beach attracted about 2 millions tourists from Viet Nam and abroad – comprising 70 per cent of tourists to the province.
"We plan to further exploit the natural advantages of Sam Son, including the sea, river, mountain, sand bank, sunlight and sea wind, along with the landscapes around, in order to satisfy the tourists even more," says Vu Dinh Que, chairman of Sam Son Town's People's Committee.
Land of legends
Sam Son is not only a good place to relax. It's also the site of many legendary landscapes such as Trong Mai Rocks, Doc Cuoc Temple, and Co Tien Mountain.
Doc Cuoc Temple is famous as the site of an epic legend about a giant who slayed a monster that was guarding the sea.
From our hotel, we rented an electrical car to Trong Mai Rock. It's interesting to see that electrical cars have become very popular in Sam Son now, offering tourists another transportation option besides the cyclo.
After following a meandering road for 1km around Truong Le Mountain, we arrived at Trong Mai Rocks.
One rock has a sharp pointed head and looks like a rooster. The rock lying besides this one is smaller and looks like a hen. The two rocks lie on a big flagstone as if they want to challenge the sea.
Here we met Thanh Mai, a local woman, who told us the legend of the rock.
"The story was passed down from generation to generation. When I was very small, my grand mother told it to me," she said.
Once upon a time, there was a fisherman named Ngu Phu who lived in Sam Thon Commune of Sam Son Town. Strong and assiduous, he was much loved by the local people. One day during a terrible storm, Phu saved the life of a white stork who fell down from the sky. He brought the stork home and took care of her.
The stork was in fact the daughter of the Jade Emperor, who had transgressed and was sent to the Earth (the lower world) in the form of a stork as punishment. After she was freed from the punishment, she became a beautiful woman again. But she didn't want to go back to the sky, despite the order of her father. She wanted to stay with Phu. When her father found out she had married Phu, he got very angry and sent a messenger from the sky to punish her again. But she used her magical power to transform herself and her husband into a pair of birds. When the messenger tried to capture them, the birds turned into the two rocks standing proudly next to each other on the big flagstone.
"The rock became the symbol of faithful love. It represents the aspiration of the local people of our region to be able to live happily, to live in love," explains Mai.
"Quite a few young couples from our region come here to pray for eternal love," she adds.
The legend of the Trong Mai Rocks keeps haunting me on my way back to Ha Noi. I tell myself that I have to come back here to pray for a happy life full of love for myself and my dear ones.