Da Nang is developing at break-neck speed, and has fast become one of the most enticing cities in Vietnam. Located largely on a long peninsula at the mouth of the Han river, Da Nang boasts a long stretch of beaches lined with modern resorts and restaurants. Downtown sights include the Da Nang Cathedral, Cao Dai Temple, and the Phap Lam Pagoda. During the war, U.S. soldiers dubbed the peaks at the tip of Da Nang’s peninsula “Monkey Mountain”. A motorbike ride to the summit’s remarkable lookout point will likely teach you why. Look to the Dragon bridge at 9pm on the weekends to see an explosive show.
Vietnam’s most romantic and languid historic village is Hoi An, a short drive south from Da Nang, Hoi An’s historic Old Town overlooks the muddy estuary of the Thu Bon river lit up with colorful lanterns and the glowing windows of merchant shops. Once a bustling port city, Hoi An stands today as an atmospheric cocktail of East Asian cultural influences, from the Fujian Chinese Assembly Hall to the photogenic Japanese Covered Bridge.
The city of Hue, once an ancient capital of Imperial Vietnam, now wraps around the historic remnants of the Imperial Citadel. Fortified by moats and ornate walls, the massive complex is the stuff of fantasy. Past the Nine Holy Cannons and the storied Flag Tower, and then through the looming Ngo Mon Gate, the Citadel reveals its wealth of treasures: The Thai Hoa Palace, the Halls of the Mandarins, the Forbidden Purple City, the Co Ha Gardens, The Emperor’s Quarters, and the To Mieu Temples. To this day, the imperial cuisines developed in Hue are still referenced in dishes throughout the country, making the city a pilgrimage destination for foodies.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Phong Nha-Ke Bang is certainly most famous for its extraordinary caves. The most popular are the Tu Lan, Hang Toi, Phong Nha, and Paradise caves. Tours of each can be arranged from local guides and offer varying combinations of hiking, kayaking, swimming, and zip-lining through the great limestone halls. If dark caverns aren’t your thing, however, Phong Nha-Ke Bang also offers terrific mountain biking and forest trekking. Keep an eye out for exotic wildlife including tigers, elephants, and the unusual saola. During the war, many of the caves were used as hospitals, and the park bares the scars of heavy bombing and unexploded ordinance, so only hike it with a licensed tour guide who knows the area.