28 Apr Central Vietnam Travel Tips + Photos
My impression of Central Vietnam:
I found Central Vietnam quite a bit different from Southern Vietnam.
Click here to for my Southern Vietnam post and photos.
Central Vietnam felt more historical, cultural and more…Communist. This is because unlike Southern Vietnam, Central Vietnam contains many of the country’s cultural and historical sites which beautifully showcases its often complex history.
Click here to see my photos of Central Vietnam.
Where to go in Central Vietnam? Central Vietnam’s most popular cities/attractions are:
1. Da Nang – the largest city and the largest airport in the area. I found it too commercial but the Marble Mountains in Da Nang are worth a visit.
Click here for my Da Nang Travel Tips.
2. My Son Sanctuary – UNESCO Heritage site, 1-2 hours from Da Nang. Here you’ll find Hindu ruins, left behind by the Champas who ruled Vietnam for over 1,500 years. Click here to read my My Son Sanctuary Travel Tips.
3. Hoi An – An extremely picturesque but very touristy town, albeit with a very unique history. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and European influences can be found in this town, which is unlike anywhere in Vietnam. Click here to read my Hoi An Travel Tips.
4. Hue – Pronounced hway, this imperial city was my favourite tourist spot in Central Vietnam. The city provides interesting insight into the later years of Vietnamese kings’ rule of the region and you can still see Communist images plastered around the town. Click here to read my Hue Travel Tips.
How many days to spend in Central Vietnam?
3-5 days are enough to see the top tourist sites that I have mentioned on this page. On top of that, you can add however many days you want for beach and relaxation. I went in late December and it rained a lot. So depending on when you go, the weather may not be ideal and you will want to minimize how much time you allocate for the beach.
My impression of Da Nang: Overall, I found Đà Nẵng to be an uninspiring city. It seems like there are hundreds of resorts being built along the beaches of the East Sea. There are however 2 interesting touristy things to see to here: Marble Mountains and the 67 meters high Lady Buddha on Son Tra Peninsula.
Marble Mountains are a cluster of five mountains, each named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth). You can take an elevator up to the mountain and explore the caves inside the mountains. There are interesting Buddha statues, temples, carvings depicting Buddha’s life, etc. It is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
Da Nang Travel Tip: Heads up, this tends to be a very busy place. Because of its proximity to the resorts in Da Nang, almost every tourist that comes to Central Vietnam goes here. But don’t let the crowds deter you. It is an interesting place to see but just be aware that there will be lots of people, especially during the peak holiday season.
Lady Buddha: A short drive from the Marble Mountain is the Lady Buddha statute. At 67 metres high, is the largest Buddha statue in Vietnam.
Da Nang Travel Tips: On the day that I went, it was raining a lot and as a result, I found the Lady Buddha slightly less impressive, especially since I went here after visiting Marble Mountain. It does get good reviews so I think it is worth checking out. But remember, between Marble Mountain and Lady Buddha statute, the former is far more interesting. And I highly recommend that you go to Lady Buddha statue on a clear day.
Da Nang Travel Tips: If you are planning to see the Marble Mountains andLady Buddha statute, I recommend that you combine Da Nang and My Son Sanctuary together for a full day tour.
My Son Sanctuary
What is it? Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary is a collection of partially ruined Hindu temples that were built between 4 – 13 centuries during the Champa rule of Vietnam. For most of the time that the Champa Kingdom ruled Vietnam, My Son served as its religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom. These ruins are surrounded by a ring of mountains and the sacred Thu Bon river.
Is it worth going to? Absolutely! Now, keep in mind that these temples do not match the grandiose of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. They are much, much smaller. Even if you are not a fan of ruins or ancient history, I think My Son is worth a visit.
Why you should visit? As I mentioned in Vietnam ‘Country Profile’ page, Vietnam is a country that has been ruled, either directly or indirectly, by a number of foreign powers and their influences are present everywhere. The Champa, who were Hindus, ruled various parts of Vietnam from 192 AD – 1832. Vietnam is unique among Southeast Asian countries in that they have been dominated by both Han Chinese and Hindu Champas simultaneously. My Son Sanctuary is one of those places in Vietnam that you should visit in order to appreciate, and get a more full understanding, of the Vietnamese psyche.
My Son Sanctuary Travel Tip: Yes, it can get quite touristy. Trying going early in the morning or afternoon time (though it will be very hot so take the usual precautions – water, hat, sunscreen). Or, like me, you can go when the weather is not ideal. I went on a relatively rainy day and the crowds were fewer.
My Son on a rainy day: Going on a slightly rainy or cloudy day can add to the mystery of the ruins. For me, the big thick forest, the white clouds hovering over the mountains, and the river flowing around the ruins, added to the charm of the ruins.
I can imagine that if you can go on a sweltering hot day, the ruins can appear less magical. And if you go in late December like I did, you are likely to get a rainy or cloudy day rather than a very hot one. The picture on the left is what the scenery looks like.
My Son Sanctuary Travel Tip: Before you actually get to the My Son Sanctuary, everyone collects at a small theatre to see a live dance and musical performance. The performance is supposed to evoke the times of the Champa. Some of it is quite good, some of it is quite trite. My recommendation is you stay for part of the performance and leave 5-10 minutes after you get a flavour of the performance. So while everyone else is watching the performance, you can go to the My Son Sanctuary and take photos without the copious amounts of people that usually flock there.
What’s there to see?
Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The quaint streets and buildings are outstanding examples of a well-preserved Southeast Asian trading port that dates from 15th – 19th century.
What makes Hoi An Old Town particular unique is that the entire old town reflects a fusion of local and foreign cultures (Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and European influences) that combined to produce architecture and ambiance that you are unlikely to see anywhere else in the world.
Top highlights of Hoi An: Old Town, Quan Cong & Phuc Kien temples, ancient house of Tan Ky where 7 generations of the same family have lived, Phung Hung house of 1780 and the famous Japanese Bridge built 1719 (which is featured on Vietnamese currency).
Hoi An Travel Tips: Hoi An is also famous for bespoke tailoring and shoe shops. When you arrive, you will see tonnes of clothes shops, and because of fierce competition, the wares being sold are of pretty good quality. So if you are planning on staying in Hoi An for a few days, or nearby, then I recommend going shopping on the first day for that bespoke suit and picking it up on your way out of Hoi An. One practical thing to keep in mind that is if you are planning to continue touring Vietnam, then you have to carry that bespoke suit with you.
Hoi An Travel Tips: Hoi An extremely picturesque and unique, but also quite touristy, especially during peak holiday seasons and anytime in the early evenings when the entire old town is lit up beautifully with Chinese lanterns. I suggest that you do go in the early evening the old town because this is when Hoi An is at its prettiest. However, it will seem like every other tourist in town is there, so manage your expectations for crowds.
Hoi An Travel Tips: Because Hoi An has a very touristy feel to it, I recommend that you don’t make it the main focus of your day trip. I went with a tour company that combined my Hoi An old town, where I went in the evening, with other activities. On the same day, I visited the Tra Que Herb & Vegetable Village, rode a water buffalo (see my photos above) and the famous round basket boats of Vietnam in Cam Thanh Eco Water Coconut village (see photo below), all of which made a very fun day.
What it is? Hue is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945.
Hue was my favourite destination in central Vietnam. There are so much history and culture in this part of Vietnam. While the touristy side of Da Nang and Hoi An detracted from their charms, Hue was fantastic, notwithstanding all the tourist! There is a distinct Communist feel here as well (see photo on the left).
Top highlights of Hue:
1. Citadel of Hue
2. Imperial City – palaces & shrines built by Emperor Gia Long, first Emperor of Nguyen Dynasty
3. Thien Mu pagoda – the tallest religious building in Vietnam
4. Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc
5. Not-to-be-missed Emperor Khai Dinh’s bizarre and over-the-top tomb
6. The downtown area that is decorated with lots of Communist propaganda. The spirit of Ho Chi Minh is alive and well in Hue!
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