The central coast - beaches all the way
The narrow coastal strip between the Truong Son mountains and the East sea from Da Nang to Nha Trang, 540km to the south, is trimmed with many of Vietnam’s best beaches. Both the Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City railway and Highway 1 hug the coast for much of the journey, providing more or less continuous views of rocky headlands, sandy coves and atolls, and small fishing villages .
South from Da Nang
The Central coast was the heartland of the ancient Cham people in Vietnam. Forty kilometres inland from My Khe Beach is My Son, the spiritual capital of the Cham Kingdom. Its ornate brick towers are replicated at sites all down the coast, with significant remains at Qui Nhon, Nha Trang and Phan Rang.
Travelling southwards, Highway 1 climbs to the crest of the Hai Van Pass. A new tunnel through the mountain will speed the journey, but the view from the top makes a detour worthwhile.
The My Lai massacre
About 130km south of Da Nang is Quang Ngai Province and town. Close by is the village of Son My, site of what came to be known as the My Lai massacre, the worst war crime committed by the Americans in Vietnam. Heavily armed infantry, supported by helicopter gunships, committed appalling atrocities in all four of My Son’s hamlets, one of which was My Lai. Over 500 unarmed civilians, old men, women, children and babies, were slaughtered. The remains of the buildings, bullet scars, photographs and mementos in the Memorial Park are a grim reminder of the brutality of the war.
A mere three kilometres from the horrors of Son My is Bien Khe Ky Beach, a long stretch of sand and excellent for swimming. It’s very quiet, but there are a few fishing villages nearby.
From the year 1000 AD, Vijaya was the capital of the Cham people after Vietnamese attrition forced them to abandon Indrapura, their capital near My Son in what is today called Dong Duong. In 1471, after centuries of attacks by Vietnam and the Khmer Empire, Vijaya was overrun by a Vietnamese army, and the once mighty Cham Kingdom collapsed into obscurity There are a few remains of the city about 25km from modern Qui Nhon, about 300km south of Da Nang.
Song Cau and Tuy Hoa
Song Cau, about 45km south from Qui Nhon, is a small village on the shores of a large bay with several secluded beaches. The scenery is very attractive, and boat trips are possible. About 100km north of Nha Trang, Tuy Hoa town is a large, sleepy backwater beside Highway 1. It has a couple of reasonable hotels, and a long tree-lined beach that is usually deserted during the day in summer (but packed with locals in the early morning and early evening) and throughout the winter.
Approaching Nha Trang
Twenty kilometres further on is Dai Lanh, a fishing village beside a beautiful bay with dazzling white sand beaches and shady pine trees. There is some very basic accommodation, a few places to eat, and nothing whatsoever to do apart from swimming and sunbathing.
In the same area is Whale Island, a delightful hideaway for a restful beach holiday. A stylish chalet-style resort set among coconut palms is the only development on the island. There is a pleasant beach, a good restaurant, but no telephones or television, so peace and quiet is assured. Doc Let Beach, 30km from Nha Trang is another spectacular, but little visited, white sand beach.
Nha Trang itself is a large resort centre with a good beach, plenty of hotels and restaurants, an airport and a large archipelago of islands in a large bay. It is a good centre for a more traditional beach holiday and easily reached by air and rail from Ho Chi Minh City, 450km to the south.