by Anh H. Nguyen
Palexy's first company trip came as a much-needed repose after many months of stress and anxiety due to Covid-19. Little did we know that only a few days later, a sudden resurgence of the virus in Danang would throw the country into a massive state of emotional turmoil. It was truly a case of perfect timing. The trip coincided with the Vnexpress Marathon in Quy Nhon, a huge event with thousands of participants. It was the first of its kind in Binh Dinh and the excitement was palpable. Running has gained traction (ha!) in recent years in Vietnam, and this race attracted a great number of sponsors: TH True Water, Tiger Balm, Sunplay, FPT, Salonpas, Nike, etc.,
Thu and Phuong Anh were the first two to arrive from Hanoi, Thu with her husband in tow. They had one extra day to explore Quy Nhon and help other team members collect their race kits. The race kit was truly phenomenal! It contained a quick-dry running T-shirt, a sports cap, sunblock, juice milk, face mask, pain relief patch, and a headband. For 21k and 42k runners, an energy bar was also included (not pictured).
Most of the other team members flew from Ho Chi Minh city to Quy Nhon on Saturday morning. Pictures of airports close to bursting had been circulating on the Internet the day before, so people were extra wary of queues. Fortunately, Vietnam Airlines allowed people flying from certain ports to check-in online, thus saving precious time. The whole team made it through security and gathered at the gate with many minutes to spare. It was also a special occasion for Tran - her first time flying!
The flight itself was uneventful, save for the fact that all passengers were diligent about wearing face masks throughout. Some worrying news about a potential new case of Covid-19 in Da Nang had been trickling out and people were cautious. It took only 50 minutes to fly from Ho Chi Minh to Quy Nhon and the notorious heat was emanating from all directions when we landed. We stayed at FLC Luxury, the biggest resort in all of Binh Dinh Province. Due to the huge influx of travelers and runners converging in Quy Nhon at that moment, it was nearly an impossible feat to secure enough space for 14 people. Thanks to Thu and Phuong Anh's sheer ingenuity, we were able to get two 4-bedroom pool villas at the last minute. They had also booked a 16-seat van to transport us during the three days we stayed. We shuffled in the van and eagerly waited for it to get us to our hotel, and lunch! Tummies were rumbling.
If one needed to describe FLC Quy Nhon, huge would be an understatement. It was a mega-resort sprawling 13 square kilometers with many buildings still under construction. Even after 3 days, we never understood its layout. Its sheer size resulted in a small mix-up: at first we ended up at the hotel part of the resort while we should have gone to the villa part instead. Right after checking in, a new van sent by Huong Duong restaurant arrived and whisked us away to lunch. It was a special local feature: all the restaurants we dined at also took care of our coming and going. How neat, especially for a large group of people.
Lunch was marvelous: the seafood was fresh, perfectly cooked, and delicious. The amount of food we pre-ordered was not nearly enough, though: the whole team demolished it in 10 minutes, top. The restaurant struggled to keep up with our extra orders, but they truly did their best. Huong Duong would be a good choice for people staying in the area since they provided adequate space and air conditioning, without which one simply could not survive the brutal heat of Quy Nhon. After lunch, we came back to FLC and got to see our villas for the first time.
Fun by the pool
There was a curvy pool with sparkling, azure water in front of each villa, lush vegetations, and some outdoor sitting areas. Inside, the villas were extremely spacious and nicely kept. Each villa had four bedrooms, a vast area connecting the living room and the dining room, and several bathrooms with pretty sunken bathtubs. We hardly had any time to settle in, though, since Ky Co Beach was waiting. It was a small island off the coast of Quy Nhon and all visitors needed to leave by 4:30pm. To access the island, first we needed to walk through Nhon Ly, a small yet picturesque fishing village. Then we took the canoe to the island, a supposedly short and easy journey. Yet that canoe ride was probably the single most crazy, adrenalin-fueled experience during the whole trip - the waves crashed around us, shaking the boat up and down like a cork in a blender. Each time the boat rammed into the swollen sea, water splashed all over us. By the time we got off, everyone was soaking wet to the bones!
Our walk through Nhon Ly fishing village
Thankfully the sun shone warmly and we dried up in no time flat. As a destination, Ky Co Beach was still largely uncultivated but that was part of its charm. Tourists flocked here for the crystal clear water (perfect for snorkeling), fine yellow sand, and friendly locals. Thu and Phuong Anh had prepared many team building games for us to play. Much hilarity ensued! Time flew by and we needed to leave for snorkeling before the beach closed off.
One last picture before leaving Ky Co.
The second round of fun began. Our canoe operator took us to a calm area known to be a prime snorkeling spot. Most of the team stripped off and put on snorkeling gear, while the rest opted for a relatively drier excursion: Thao, Tran, Phuong Anh, and Jenny got in an oversize plastic tub with glass bottom. The vessel looked precarious at first, but once we all got in, it was actually pretty stable. Through the glass barrier we saw plenty of corals, fish, and even some sea urchins. Phuong Anh figured out a clever way to record the footage by placing her phone directly on the glass. The rest quickly followed suit.
Frolicking in the cool seawater
When the team got back on the canoe to return to the resort, the sun had set. Time for a carb-loading dinner! Learning from our mistake at lunch, we ordered double the quantity we normally ate. As the whole team was ravenous from our afternoon activities, that turned out to be just the right amount. As we tucked in the yummy garlic fried rice and seafood, a shocking news came: Thi Nai bridge, our only route into the city and to the marathon starting point, would close at 3:00am to make space for the runners! This meant we would have to wake up at 1:30am in order to make the trip. The team quickly finished dinner in stunned silence, no doubt calculating the meagre hours of sleep we would get. Phuong Anh sprang into action again, ordering breakfasts in individual boxes from the hotels. The boxes arrived just in time. Bleary-eyed and sluggish, we took our breakfast with us on the van and headed to Quy Nhon in total darkness, just barely after 2:00am.
What passed for fun at 4:13am
When we arrived at Nguyen Tat Thanh Square, it was almost completely empty save for some organizers hanging around. Some team members tried to catch some more sleep inside the van while others got out to stretch their legs. The fresh pre-dawn air woke us up quickly though and laughter soon filled the air. The bulk of the team signed up for the 5k and 10k races with the exceptions being Thong (42k) and Minh (21k). Once Thong and Minh had been sent off, it was time for the rest to file to the starting point. Somehow the square was suddenly bursting with people! There must have been thousands of runners - some were warming up, some were doing some last minute tasks like pinning their bibs to their tops, some were taking selfies and smiling for the cameras. The excitement was contagious.
At 5:30am on the dot, the team joined hands and shouted one last hurrah before taking off. The sun was rising up, coloring the city a golden pink. It was a fantastical experience running along the coastline and watching the gentle ocean waves with people cheering us up on both sides of the road. The preparations for this marathon were top-notch: there were plenty of watering stations complete with pre-cut fruits, electrolyte water, and other refreshments. The 42k runners even got to run through Nhon Hoi, a quaint village. Friendly locals, some of whom were little kids, put out snacks and cheered runners up as they ran by.
A picture of Nhon Hoi village, taken by Vnexpress photojournalist
Once the team had finished the race, we were treated to massages, wet towels, ice cold beer, sausages, and roast peanuts, courtesy of the marathon's various sponsors. The air had heated up considerably and we opted to lounge on a shaded spot on the lawn. Our empty runners' stomachs soon demanded something more substantial than beer, though, and we headed for a breakfast restaurant in the city, well-known for its fish soup with vermicelli. Sadly, at least one team member simply passed out from the lack of sleep and missed the chance to sample one of Quy Nhon's culinary triumphs.
A well-deserved beer break on the grass
Once Thong had made his way back (15 minutes before the cut-off time), the team got on the van again, this time for some much-needed sleep and rest. Phuong Anh ordered some excellent lunch to our villas, which included two mouth-watering salt-steamed chickens, but people were simply too tired to partake wholeheartedly in the feast. People then passed time in their own ways: some napped the afternoon away, some opted to go swimming, some polished off the previously mentioned chickens, some went to Eo Gio - a windy seaside road and famous Instagrammable spot to check-in and take pictures.
After a buffet dinner at FLC, the whole company, now fresh and well-rested, gathered in one villa for some games and fun. Thong started the evening by telling the story of Palexy's beginning and how each member of the team fitted in the journey, revealing some amusing anecdotes. Two drinking games followed suit. In the first one, people needed to match other team members with their supposed roles inside the company. For each answer they got wrong, they needed to drain a glass of plum wine. Thao suggested the second game: each member wrote two secret facts about themselves and let others guess, which turned out to be more challenging than expected! The evening was rounded off with a surprise birthday party for Minh. A beautiful fresh cream cake with coconut had been delivered to the villa in the afternoon and kept hidden by Phuong Anh and Thu. It was a fulfilling and fun-filled day, the perfect ending to our trip. Though we still had half a day left, it went by in a flurry of packing, checking out, going to the airport, and flying home. Looking back, we are sure glad to have these merry moments together, especially in uncertain times such as now. Here is hoping for another year of achievement, adventures, and more company events to look forward to!