After the muddy blur of our initial days convalescing from jet lag in Hanoi, we were ever-so-excited to put our renewed states of consciousness to the next task ahead: luxuriating on a tropical beach.
When we planned the itinerary for our first month of Vietnam exploration, we sought a mix of practical and indulgent destinations. The practical included Hanoi, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and Danang—cities where we might drop anchor once we’re ready to seek employment. The rest were for sheer enjoyment, such as the Mekong Delta, Hoi An, and of course…Bai Xep!
Even if you’re familiar with Vietnam, you’re likely drawing a complete blank on Bai Xep. And frankly, we’re glad, because that’s exactly why we went there. Through our search for a relaxing, beautiful beach destination away from the areas frequented by international and local tourists, we learned of the ocean-side retirement hotspot of Quy Nhon (pronounced ‘hwee ngon’) in the central region of Vietnam. Then, by happenstance when peering at Quy Nhon on Google Maps, we saw a little marker-pin appear nearby for a destination called ‘Lifes’s a Beach.’ A curious click took us to more details where we discovered our dreams embodied.
Lifes’s a Beach is a small eco resort run by married British expats Steve and Gavin who are committed to involving and supporting the community of the little fishing village of Bai Xep in which they operate. Just 30 minutes’ drive south of Quy Nhon, Bai Xep (pronounced like the big ‘bicep’ muscle in your arm) offers beach side lodging options ranging from just a few dollars per night for dorm-style beds to $40 per night for a private, 2-story beach bungalow with ocean front balcony. They’ve thoughtfully ensured their cozy property is welcoming and affordable for travelers of all budgets. You can pay-as-you-go for breakfast, lunch, and drinks at their onsite cabana-style restaurant where they play great music on a helluva sound system, plus offer free wifi and board games to boot. Best of all are their optional nightly ‘family dinners’ that bring together Life’s a Beach guests, staff, and motorbike travelers just passing through for a traditional Vietnamese meal prepared by lovely ladies from the village. Every Saturday morning Gavin leads a free English as a second language class for children in the village, which guests are welcome to participate in (either as teachers or students!).
The moment we arrived to Life’s a Beach, we thanked the earlier versions of ourselves who were keen and kind enough to give us this much needed respite after eight (exciting but draining!) months of overseas transition preparation. Crystal waters, swaying palm trees, sumptuous flowering bushes of hot pinks and purples, colorful bobbing Vietnamese fishing boats, and bright blue ‘roundboats’—engineering marvels of sea travel—dotting the shoreline welcomed us to paradise.
Each morning, we woke for the magnificent sunrise view from our balcony. After a light breakfast of Vietnamese coffee and tropical fruit along with some conversation with the awesome Life’s a Beach staff (who include supremely charming English-speaking locals in addition to Gavin and Steve), we’d hide from the pervasive, marshmallow-thick humidity by submerging ourselves in the calm ocean waters and swim toward the stunning natural rock formations that lined the farther shore where we’d marvel at our view of islands, mountains, palm trees, and endless water. On days when we brought snorkel masks along, Mark would re-visit a tropical fish he discovered living along an ocean rock. We named him Marvin.
With our 4:45 a.m. sunrise wake ups and the enervating heat of Vietnamese summer, afternoon naps (more like collapse) became the norm. Although our bungalow lacked air conditioning, a strategically placed fan and the discipline to move one’s body as little as possible offered respite. When the setting sun ushered in cooler air to the grounds of Life’s a Beach, the staff would begin setting the large communal table and lighting candles for that evening’s ‘family meal’. These gatherings were the absolute highlight of our stay at Life’s a Beach. Each night we met such interesting, kind, fun, and overall wonderful people: Mo, a Canadian expat traveling through Vietnam on motorbike who’d previously taught English as a second language in Korea and gave us all kinds of what’s-what tips for teaching and travel in SE Asia; two lovely and brilliant young men from the Netherlands about to begin their graduate studies in the fields of medicine and physical therapy; fellow Americans (and hockey fans!) Joe and Rich who’d met then teamed up along their individual Top Gear inspired motorbike journeys from the South to North of Vietnam; and A’Lease, a marvelous woman originally from the American South who has spent a significant portion of her impressive career in the education field teaching and designing curriculum for English as a second language learners all across the world (A’Lease, if you’re reading this, our email to you never went through, and we’d love to get back in touch! You can send us a message through this site). Awesomely, in the truest definition of the word, we unintentionally ran into Rich two more times after that—next over breakfast in our hotel in Hue, and then again in the Old Quarter of Hanoi! Utterly amazing. Makes me wonder if the universe was trying to bring us together to do something awesome (hopefully if so, we haven’t missed our chance yet). We’ve loved following Rich’s posts and videos on his Facebook page, and encourage you to do the same to get a hilarious, poignant, and very real take on traveling through Vietnam.
We also placed our first family Fairy Door! Jill loves the beach and so we left her prettiest of Fairy Doors here for the visitors and kids of Bai Xep to delight in discovering.
During our four days at Life’s a Beach in Bai Xep, we couldn’t have had better company or surrounds. From bright enthusiastic children, charming dogs, incredible proprietors and their staff, crazy spiny sea creatures, gorgeous landscapes, our fish-friend Marvin, and the many new friends we carry with us forward, we will be forever in fond celebration of our time at Steve and Gavin’s incredibly special getaway. They tell us they’re opening a second property nearby in the coming year. What a great reason for us to re-visit soon, and hopefully for you to come along too!
You can click here to view our full photo album from Life’s a Beach, and below for our brief Bai Xep video compilation + crazy spiny sea creature video in-full: