Ancient buildings and tombs, war relics, a National Park and good beaches
The Hue, Hoi An, and Da Nang area is the most visited in Vietnam. With the DMZ, three World Heritage Areas, a National Park, and several good beaches, there is plenty to see and do, and it makes a convenient base from which to explore farther afield.
The War Zone
This area saw most of the major confrontations during the American War. North of Hue is the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ, and Quang Tri Province where much of the fighting occurred. The border between the communist North and the US-supported South was the Ben Hai River, not the ‘17th Parallel’ as is popularly believed . The area still bears the scars of the massive bombardments that took place.
The few remains of the many camps and combat bases, the barren ground pockmarked with craters, and the tens of thousands of graves in the National Cemetery, a fraction of the million North Vietnamese soldiers who died in the conflict, are solemn reminders of war. Nearby is the Vinh Moc tunnel complex, less extensive, but more authentic, than the more famous Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City.
The Imperial City
Hue, Vietnam’s ancient Imperial Capital, lies at the mouth of the Perfume River. It, too, has been disfigured by warfare, first by French colonists who sacked and burnt the Imperial Library as a reprisal for resistance, and then by a massive US barrage during 1968 Tet Offensive that destroyed much of Hue’s ancient Citadel. Nevertheless, the restoration work, and Hue’s status as a World Heritage Site, makes it an important destination for visitors. Hue has a small airport with regular flights from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang. At present, the few good hotels in Hue City are often fully-booked for most of the peak season. However, several new hotels of a higher standard are under construction, so four and five star accommodation should be easier to come by in 2004
Bach Ma National Park
Forty kilometres south of Hue is Bach Ma National Park, one of Vietnam’s best-managed nature reserves. The park encompasses a mountain area that was once a colonial hill-station. As well as good nature trails, waterfalls, lush vegetation and opportunities for trekking, Bach Ma has spectacular views over the coast.
Lang Co Beach
Twenty-five kilometres further south, Lang Co Beach is a long stretch of white sand with a pretty village and an attractive lagoon at the southern end. Halfway along is recently built resort hotel on the beach, a short distance from Highway 1. Its proximity to Hue makes it an alternative to accommodation in the city itself.
The Hai Van Pass
About a hundred kilometres on the other side of the Hai Van Pass, soon to be replaced by a tunnel, is Da Nang, an important port and Vietnam’s fourth largest city. It’s a pleasant place, but without a great deal of interest apart from its famous Cham Museum, and a Cao Dai temple. Nearby, on an attractive section of My Khe Beach, is Vietnam’s premier first class resort hotel, the only hotel above superior status within reasonable reach of Hue.
The Marble Mountains
The Marble Mountains are a popular spot for Vietnamese visitors, about ten kilometres from Da Nang. It’s a commercialised site, but the shrines and pagodas built into the caves in the limestone hills are interesting if it’s not too crowded. At its base is Non Nuoc, a stone carving village with more than a thousand people involved in making fine art works and Buddha statues from high-grade limestone, mostly for export worldwide.
The Ancient Town of Hoi An
On the mouth of the Thu Bon river in the middle of modern Hoi An, about 35km from Da Nang, is the Ancient Town of Hoi An. Facing the silted-up river that once made it a major port, it is now a World Heritage Area and a popular destination. Its close proximity to Cua Dai Beach, good hotels and restaurants make it a pleasant place to spend a few days in the middle of a full tour of Vietnam. Although it's commercialised, it's a well managed site and retains it's 'village atmosphere'. Apart from the ancient streets of wooden buildings, silk shops, river trips and a delightful monthly 'return to the past' evening when traffic and electricity is replaced by lanterns and traditional costumes, are additional attractions.
The remarkable Cham towers of My Son
The My Son Sanctuary, another World Heritage Area, is around 40km from Da Nang to the south. Now a ruin resulting from heavy US bombing, the magnificently ornamented brick towers of My Son were the spiritual, cultural and artistic heart of the Cham Kingdom. Its evocative valley setting and the remarkable artisanship of its construction makes it well worth a visit.