The heart of Vietnam is also the country`s soul, stuffed with astonishing historic sites and cultural heritage. For those who don`t fancy visiting the chaotic megalopolises of Saigon and Hanoi the imperial city of Hue and the merchant town of Hoi An will definitely be their favourites. Both places offer a wonderful insight into ancient Vietnam. And just to make the travel package more dazzling, a tour through Da Nang will please with an illuminated skyline of skyscrapers, riverside promenade, fine-dining restaurants and some of the finest beaches in Vietnam.
HUE (THE FORBIDDEN CITY)
Once the capital of Vietnam, and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the imperial city of Hue has a distinguished history and a long tradition. Despite the bitter battles during the Vietnam War, it has kept its air of romance, refinement and spirituality.
On the north bank of the Perfume River, Emperor Gia Long built a huge citadel in the Chinese style that hides the ‘Forbidden City’ at its heart. The tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty are why UNESCO named Hue an “adorable architectural poem. Built to strict rules of geomancy and depicting personality elements of each individual ruler – the tombs are a sight to behold.
The Ngo Mon Gate and the Thai Hoa Palace are the highlights of the city, along with many other monuments such as ancestral altars, pagodas, temples, royal mausolea and interesting museums to be visited.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN HUE
The modern city of Da Nang is the beach hub of Central Coast; mostly for the Vietnamese tourists, however. Westerners often overlook this place but there is a great potential for tourism, and Da Nang is slowly but surely becoming a new vacation spot, and the rapidly growing development speaks for it. With sparkling skyscrapers and a lovely riverfront promenade the city reminiscent of a subdued version of Shanghai`s Bund.
Sitting on the banks of the Han River, Da Nang boasts riverside dining and entertainment, but also fine palm-fringed beaches, including pretty My Khe Beach, known as China Beach for American G.I.’s. This is the place to unwind and recharge your batteries. Moreover, the nearby off-shore islands are home to the abundant underwater world and marine life – so, scuba divers and snorkellers are welcome, too!
Da Nang`s hinterland provides fabulous opportunities for trekking, caving and camping – the well-known Marble Mountains is the perfect sanctuary for all nature lovers.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN DA NANG
Strap on your walking shoes – Hoi An is a town best explored on foot. The large community of foreign merchants living here between the 16th and 18th centuries left a heady mix of architecture, which combines Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese cultures.
At that time ships from Europe brought weapons, sulphur and lead, and left, with silks, porcelain and exotic oils and spices from the Far East. Many Chinese and Japanese settled here due to the great trading opportunities and their heritage is visible literally everywhere around.
Today, this UNESCO-listed town of Hoi An features well-preserved architecture, old cobbled streets, lined with large, attractive merchant houses and pagodas and picturesque riverside promenades spotted with art stalls, markets, pretty restaurants and tailor-shops.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCE IN HOI AN
The best way to travel the Vietnamese coastline is by motorbike, car or a train. You can either land in Hanoi and travel by train down the coast, stopping by at the main points of interest and have an outward flight from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) or do it the other way around.
Many travellers land in Hanoi, buy an old motorcycle (prices starting at $100 USD+), travel down the coast and re-sell in Saigon, where they have an outward flight ticket from. Otherwise, it is possible to do the same route, starting in Saigon, riding up the coast and leaving the country from Hanoi. The motorbike market is great in Vietnam and travellers typically buy-sell-swap the vehicles through their hostels, guesthouses or online. It is a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Suggested time for such a coastal road/train trip is 10-14 days
WHEN TO TRAVEL
The dry season generally runs from May till August, however, it gets extremely hot at this time of year when the temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius.
During the winter months, October-January, the rainfall increases and it is also the typhoon season.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly directly to Danang and get to Hue and Hoi An by train/car or motorbike.
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