Stretching for 6km along National Highway No 1, far from the noisy city, Sa Huynh in the central province of Quang Ngai offers a quiet escape along the central coast.

The area was a major salt production centre during the Nguyen Dynasty; its name means "golden sand". Today, tourists can visit the Sa Huynh salt field, where farmers still do the job.

In the early years of the 20th century, French archaeologists discovered many tombs containing jars and other artifacts there. They revealed that the Sa Huynh civilisation spread over a vast area, from Ngang Pass in the central province of Ha Tinh to Dong Nai and the Central Highlands . At Ma Vuong Hill, visitors can see many of these ancient relics.

"Tourists have many options for day trips. From Sa Huynh beach resort, you can take a half or full day to see the beach, travel in a boat or trek in the forest on Monkey Island ," said Sa Huynh resort tour operator Thuy Kieu.

Home to 500 wild monkeys, the island offers adventurers a challenge. "You have to climb up a mountain to land on the island, although you can also rent a boat from local fishermen to explore the island by sea," Kieu said.

Visit on the 16th day of the third lunar month to see the annual fish-worshipping festival.. Even on an ordinary day, there are plenty of watery activities. Kieu recommended hunting freshwater crabs in Sa Huynh lagoon with a local guide or visiting Thach Tru hot springs , 30km northeast of Sa Huynh.

Discovered in 1837, the spring always has temperatures between 60 and 80oC; local people believe that bathing in it is good for health.

"I visited Sa Huynh with my family last summer. We did a three-day-and-two-night stay and loved the ocean air and pristine beach. My children and I will never forget joining local fishermen to catch fish and enjoying grilled seafood over a campfire," said Vu Hong Thanh, a tourist from Ha Nam province. "We hope to come again to relax and explore the culture and lifestyle of local people."

Sea urchin is one of Sa Huynh's specialties. Salted urchin was a frequent offering to King Minh Mang during the Nguyen Dynasty. Today, divers hunt deep in the sea for this local delicacy, which can be grilled with onion and oil or placed in hot broth to make soup.

"Sea urchin is a very special food. It revives you after hard work or a long journey," said Nguyen Hoang Khanh, a self-described "gourmet" from Hanoi. "My friends say it can even treat Alzheimer's!"

The red frog crab or spanner crab is another specialty. "Binh Dinh and Sa Huynh have the best spanner crab," Khanh said. "I like it either steamed or grilled."

Sa Huynh's three restaurants can host around 1,000 visitors. There are also two hotels and nine bungalows.

Sa Huynh is easily accessible by car, train or plane. You can book a tour from travel agencies or go there on your own. Fly to Chu Lai Airport in Quang Nam province, 90km away from Sa Huynh, or Phu Cat Airport in Binh Dinh Province. Or take a train to Quang Ngai, followed by an hour-long bus ride.

Sa Huynh is often crowded on summer holidays and weekends. The tourism site attracts 15,000 visitors each year, 20 percent of them foreigners.-VNA