Hoi An: The Classic Favorite
Sitting a few hours south from Hue along the coast is the town of Hoi An. Frozen in time as an ancient trade port from the 17th century, Hoi An overflows with old-world charm and traditional attraction. Once one of Asia’s busiest trade hubs, Hoi An once welcomed merchants from all over the world. Its position along the Thu Bon River offered easy access to the East Sea and the world’s major trade routes… until the river’s banks silted up.
Almost overnight, the river became inaccessible to boats coming in from the ocean, which immediately took the world’s trade focus off the town. As a result, the classic buildings, streets and landmarks were entirely abandoned and never saw the hands of modernity and change. It wasn’t until its rediscovery in the 1990’s that Hoi An came back on to the world’s map. Thanks to the town’s excellent preservation, Hoi An still retains its classic charms.
Marked by mango-colored houses and tight, pedestrianised alleys, Hoi An is filled with beautiful restaurants, cafes, bespoke tailor shops, art galleries and more. The original Japanese Bridge still connects two different parts of Hoi An, and the old town’s assembly halls, merchant houses, temples and communal houses still stand as they were hundreds of years ago. At night, Hoi An’s streets light up with hanging lanterns, adding to the allure of this national gem. In addition to the overflowing charm of the ancient town, Hoi An also offers a breathtaking countryside and some of the country’s most pristine beaches.
An Bang and Cua Dai Beach
A short cycle (around 5 km) from Hoi An’s center are the beach destinations of An Bang and Cua Dai. While Cua Dai used to act as the town’s biggest beach attraction, recent storms and ensuing erosion have taken away much of the beach. While Cua Dai still has a sliver of shoreline to soak up the area’s rays, the focus has shifted down the road to An Bang.
Just north towards Danang, An Bang marks a stretch of clean, yellow-sand beach that runs as far as the eyes can see. The beach is lined by bungalow-style restaurants and bars, which serve everything from western cuisine to local, Vietnamese-style seafood. During the day, the beach is a popular hangout for tourists and locals alike (soaking up the rays and swimming in the pristine waters) and at night the restaurants and bars are equally as popular, offering some of the town’s best nightlife.
For those looking for a great half day trip from Hoi An, head south a few hours (by car or motorbike) to where the ancient Cham Kingdom’s spiritual capital of My Son can be found. Vietnam’s answer to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, the My Son Sanctuary is a collection of ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples and towers that date from the 7th to 13th century. Despite being largely destroyed by American carpet bombing, the remaining temples are still mesmerising and offer some excellent insights into the sheer size of the Cham Kingdom.
Da Nang: The New Favourite
What once acted as a point of transport to Hue and Hoi An, Danang is now starting to attract its own followers. The entire east side of Danang is flanked by pristine beach, stretching from as far as Hoi An in the south to the Son Tra Peninsula in the north. Danang’s attractions are much fewer compared to its northern and southern neighbors, but thanks to being the country’s biggest up and coming tourist destination, that is quickly changing. From motorbike rides along the pictures que Son Tra Peninsula (with its iconic Lady Buddha statue) and plenty of beach time to the urban attractions of the west side of Danang, visitors will find plenty of things to occupy their time in the central city. For some short day trips outside of Danang, the following are some excellent options:
The Hai Van Pass
The Hai Van Pass was once considered one of the region’s most dangerous and deadly stretches of road. Connecting Danang with Hue, the high, mountain pass is marked by sharp, hairpin turns and steep drops. To combat the road’s deadly reputation, a tunnel was carved through the mountain, which offered trucks and constant streams of transport a much safer alternative.
Today the Hai Van Pass can be enjoyed by adventure-seeking motorbike drivers without the worry of cars and tractor trailers. Though the ride is challenging, the drive is much safer today and offers the area’s most breathtaking views of Danang city, the East Sea and Lang Co Bay. For a truly unforgettable experience, a drive (at least one way) over the Hai Van Pass is well worth the challenge. For travellers keen on their own transport, this is a great means of connecting a visit to Hue with a visit to Danang, or vice versa.
In a Day: My Khe Beach and the Marble Mountains
For a full day experience in Danang, combine some rest and relaxation on the beach with a unique half-day trip. My Khe Beach, formerly known as China Beach (the famous name given by American soldiers) is the most famous of Danang’s beaches. Offering a giant stretch of shoreline and pristine waters, it’s the ideal beachfront getaway in the city. After some sun and sand, make a visit to the iconic Marble Mountains.
Situated halfway between Danang and Hoi An, the Marble Mountains are a collection of five mountains with names representing different earthly elements. The mountains are comprised of valuable marble, which was once used to produce beautiful statues. Though the marble is no longer taken from the mountains, the production of marble statues and items is still practiced today. The mountains, which were once used as a military hideout by Viet Cong soldiers during the war, house various temples, caves and monasteries, which can be explored on foot. Additionally, the peak of the mountains offer excellent views of the surrounding area for those who don’t mind taking the hike to the top!