The central coast of Vietnam:
After being stranded by flooding and dealing with torrential downpours for a few days, Hue was a welcoming sight. We hadn’t seen a city since Hanoi and it was nice to have options for hotels, food and entertainment. Driving past a giant Vietnamese flag near the entrance to the Citadel we could see a city buzzing with life. We felt as though our three hour drive delivered us into an entirely new world. On the south side of the Perfume River we drove through beautiful tree lined streets until we reached the busy downtown area with numerous shops, bars, restaurants and cafes.
The mix of people was generous; young backpackers, older sightseeing tourists (western and eastern) and locals all converging in one place. This of course is due to the wealth of landmarks, markets, beauty and nightlife.
The Citadel is the most popular landmark in Hue and maybe of all three coastal cities. Starting from the outside there is a 2×2 km moat followed by a fortified wall, inside is the Citadel, which houses the Imperial City and inside of that is the Purple Forbidden City. The moat is fed by the nearby Perfume River. The purpose of the Citadel was to protect and provide housing for all of the Emperor Gia Long’s family, as well as housing and training grounds for troops. The Citadel was also used for Royal Ceremonies, protecting valuables and conducting business.
Thien Mu Pagoda
Built in 1601, the Thien Mu Pagoda became a major organizing place for the Buddhist movement against the Diem regime, which discriminated against Buddhists. The temple still holds the car which drove Thich Quang Duc to his self-immolation in Saigon in 1963.
The first sight of Da Nang was impressive. Coming from the north and crossing the Hai Van pass, we could see the city from above. In the distance we could see tall buildings surrounded by an endless beach front and in the foreground there was mountains and windy roads leading into the city.
It’s so beautiful on the pass that we saw two different couples taking wedding photos!
As we neared our hotel, we could sense that Da Nang was a fun city. We drove near a giant ferris wheel (4th largest in the world) and as we crossed a bridge we looked across at another bridge that had a dragon running the length of the entire bridge.
That night we were craving some western food so we ate some amazing burgers at a small restaurant named Burger Bros. In the morning, we ventured out to the end of a large peninsula so we could see a giant statue called Lady Buddha. It was a short but gorgeous drive up a small hill where we could witness the 220 foot tall statue up close. Also near the Lady Buddha are some intricately designed shrines and pagoda, all for honoring the Buddha. In the courtyard there are many beautiful bonsai trees.
The rest of the day was spent mostly at the beach, which offered some amazing waves for swimming and body surfing.
One evening Tash and I drove through Da Nang at night and we decided to go the movies. The movie theater was located inside a large mall and it was fun to see how the parking system works.
Located 15 miles from Da Nang is Hoi An, the southernmost city of the three large central Vietnam cities. With as much sightseeing as we had done, we decided to pass by the Marble Mountains, which are supposed to be a must see. We found a little homestay called the Golden Lantern about a five minute drive from downtown. It is an awesome place to stay with super-friendly people who work there and the rooms were very nice. Constructed mostly out of bamboo, the rooms have a nice cozy feel. We highly recommend it!! I also played some hallway soccer with two of their boys!
Old Town (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Once a major southeast Asian trading post in the 16th and 17th centuries, Old Town has preserved much of its culture and it is represented in many ways. Over 800 of the buildings have been preserved and they still look as they did many centuries ago. Walking around, it is easy to see the historical influence on this city. Many of the shops still use old wooden signs outside of their storefronts and many of those have carvings of Chinese characters. There is also a historic Japanese Bridge that was built in the 1590s to link Chinese and Japanese communities. Most of the buildings are now filled with tailors, cafe’s, souvenir shops and restaurants, but you can feel the presence of old tradition.
Motorized vehicles are not allowed in Old Town with the exception of a four hour period each day. This makes it a pleasant experience to walk around and check out all the city has to offer. Walking around the waterfront we entered into a large market where locals were selling all types of fruits, vegetables, chickens, eggs and souvenirs.
Heading back after the market we came across an insanely large group of tourists, who were all riding in rickshaws. I think they hired every available rickshaw driver in town! Without actually counting, I would guess close to 80!
Ang Bang Beach
Located five minutes from Old Town Hoi An, Ang Bang beach is isolated from the city life. Beach chairs and bamboo huts line the beach for thousands of feet and restaurants stay busy, but despite all of that the beach still feels relaxed and not overcrowded. Soaking in the sun, swimming in the warm ocean and playing volleyball on the beach was enough to make us come back for a second day!
Basket boat ride
Extremely common and still used everyday by fisherman, basket boats are a traditional boat that started being built when the French began taxing boat ownership. The local fisherman who relied heavily on their boats couldn’t afford the taxes and began making basket boats, arguing that they are not boats, but baskets. Apparently this clever tactic worked and new boats are still being created today.
We decided not to miss out on the opportunity to take a ride in one these traditional boats. At the end of a peninsula, just outside of Hoi An, there is a large coconut grove with many small waterways weaving through the jungle of large coconut leaves. After putting on our Vietnamese hats we got in the boat and headed towards the groves. Passing small villages, we waved at some local kids and we were able to catch a glimpse of how some of these people live.
Rowing the boat was fun to try, but without the help of our guide I probably would have just been spinning in circles. Passing through many coconut groves, we eventually stopped and our guide made Tash and Jojo rings from the coconut palms.
After our one hour ride, we were ready to get out of the heat and into the ocean!
For one of our final stops in Hoi An we checked out a nearby village where people make pottery at their homes. We didn’t stay long, but we did get to try our hand in making some small pots. A young girl used her foot to keep the wheel spinning and her mother guided us in shaping the pottery.
Before leaving town and heading back to our homestay, I was excited to discover a bar in Old Town that carries an IPA. My first IPA in two months and it tasted amazing!
Thanks Vietnam, once again you delivered a great experience!!