Central Vietnam is often underestimated and little known except for Hoi An. Tourists spend far too little time in Central Vietnam on a round trip between Halong Bay in North Vietnam and the tropical south with the Mekong Delta to see all the highlights. Central Vietnam is also home to some of the best preserved ancient monuments. In this article I list the best things to see and do in Central Vietnam. A round trip just in Central Vietnam followed by a beach holiday is already worth the trip.
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What is considered Central Vietnam?
The term “central Vietnam” is used to refer to the area of Vietnam that lies in the center of the country and includes Hoi An, Hue, Da Nang and other cities. The central region has a population of around 20 million people, which makes it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Hai Van Pass of the Ocean Clouds: Panoramic View Included
The Hai Van or Cloud Pass is the weather divide between cooler North Vietnam and tropical South Vietnam. The pass is 20 km long and climbs to almost 500 metres above sea level. From the highest point there is a panoramic view of the mountains and sea of central Vietnam. Unfortunately, the pass lives up to its name in that clouds often disturb the view.
Dong Hoi: undiscovered and laid back
Dong Hoi is an unpretentious port and seaside town with a laid back atmosphere. It enjoys a beautiful location, sitting on the banks of the Nhật Lộc River, and has beaches on both its northern and southern sides. Dong Hoi has an airport of its own linking it to Haiphong (for Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island) and Chiang Mai in Thailand. It will definitely become more popular because of the newly established connections, so come here before the masses do!
Things to do and see in Dong Hoi
- Tam Toa Church: the ruined church, destroyed during the war, has a still remaining facade in a beautiful riverside location
- Dong Hoi Citadel Gate: two restored elegant gates
- Fish market: Get here early to see the freshest fish and sea food
Hang Son Doong cave
Hang Son Doong (Mountain River Cave) is a staggering cave in Central Vietnam that is considered to be the largest cave in the world. It is also one of the most spectacular sites in Southeast Asia. It’s also one of the most expensive. The enormous cave was discovered in the early 1990s by a local hunter. Only one specialist operator (Oxalis Adventure) is permitted to offer cave tours for tourist. That’s why it’s so exclusive. It’s a whopping US$3000 per person fee for the four-day expedition with a maximum of 10 participants. The trip is not for the faint-hearted as there is a lot of climbing expecially over a vast overhanging barrier. The impressive principal cavern alone is more than 5 km long, 200 m high and up to 150 m wide. Some stalagmites are more than 80 m high. You can find colossal cave pearls, underground rivers, dry caves and the eyeless cave fish. The Hang Son Doong cave is located north of Hue.
Apart from this biggest cave there additional caves for cave enthusiasts nearby:
- Paradise cave
- Tu Lan Cave
The Vinh Moc tunnels
The Vinh Moc tunnels were built by the Viet Cong to protect themselves from the American bombings. This underground network was used to shelter thousands of people who lived there for months or even years. After the war ended, the government decided to restore this tunnel system to show how resilient the Vietnamese families are. At the entrance of the tunnel you can see a small museum showing what happened here during the war. They are located between Hue and Dong Hoi and can be visited from both cities on a day trip.
Da Nang: Beach, Culture and Food
Da Nang is the largest city in Central Vietnam and the economic centre of the region. With a population of almost 900,000, Da Nang is the fifth largest city in Vietnam. It has a large port, an airport and an annual festival. The city is also centrally located for visiting sights such as My Son, Hoi An or Cloud Pass.
Things to do and see in Da Nang
- The Cham Sculpture Museum is of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about Cham culture from the 5th to the 15th century.
- Kilometres of sandy beaches such as China Beach
- Cham Island Cu Lao Cham
- Lady Buddha statue on the Monkey mountain
- Huge variety of street food from all over Vietnam
- In the surrounding area: the Bạch Mã National Park with lakes, waterfalls and dense forests and old French summer resorts at Ba Na.
- Dragon bridge
- The Marble Mountains south of Da Nang. There are Buddhist sanctuaries with tunnels and caves. A mystical place.
Cau Vang: The Superlative Golden Bridge
Located near Da Nang, the Golden Bridge “Cau Vang” should be mentioned separately. Don’t miss out on this sight in central Vietnam! Located 30 km from Da Nang, you’ll need to take the world’s largest single cable car to get up to the bridge.
Opened in 2018, it’s a rarity architectural highlight with its iconic arch and hands supporting it. The viewing platform is 150 metres long. Along its entire length, you can take fantabulous photos of central Vietnam and the Ba Na Mountains up here at 1400 metres. Expensive, but worth it!
Hue: The ancient imperial city
One of the highlights of Central Vietnam and a must-see is the old imperial city of Hue. The former capital of Vietnam was the power centre of the Nguyen dynasty. This has earned the city on the Perfume River several UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Things to do in Hue
- Hue Citadel: If there’s one thing you should see in central Vietnam, it’s Hue Citadel. It is a defining feature of the cityscape. Surrounded by a moat, three bridges lead to the main gate. Once through the gate, you are already in the Forbidden City. Bring plenty of time, because there used to be space for the emperor’s many concubines, various temples and a large orchid garden.
- Take a boat trip on a dragon boat on the Perfume River and visit the Royal tombs
- The seven-storey pagoda Thien Mu Pagoda founded in 1601 by Nguyen Hoang is surrounded by several pavilions. One of them houses the largest bell in central Vietnam. The complex itself is a Buddhist monastery. There is a beautiful, well-maintained garden to see.
- Tu Duc Temple consisting of the emperor’s tomb and the temple complex. There is a lake on the grounds where regular performances are held on a stage.
Visit the production of incense sticks. Incense sticks are burnt all over the streets of Hue. You can see them and straw hats being made in Hue.
- Lang Khai Dinh is the last temple built by the emperor. The building is made of concrete. Don’t be put off by the weathered exterior. Inside, it is so exuberantly decorated with mosaics, panelling and paintings that it is a kind of Vietnamese Versailles. Its hilltop location alone justifies the trip out of the centre.
- Evening stroll and meal in the pedestrian zone. In the evening, streets are closed and transformed into pedestrian zones with everything that makes an evening stroll in Vietnam so irresistible: delicious Asian food and hustle and bustle.
Quang Ngai & My Lai
A dark chapter of Vietnam, but important for understanding recent history, is My Lai near Quang Nai. Located in the southern part of central Vietnam, the town of 100,000 people has no sights to offer per se. It is worth mentioning My Khe Beach a few kilometres away, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam. On the other hand, a village 2 km away, My Lai, has achieved sad fame.
In March 1968, a US unit massacred the population. The inconceivable atrocities committed by the soldiers are the subject of a local museum. Anyone who wants to understand Vietnam must deal with this harrowing subject. The more than 500 civilians who were murdered are commemorated in the My Lai memorial.
Hoi An: The Most Beautiful City in Central Vietnam
Whether you have ever been to Vietnam or not, Hoi An is a household name to almost everyone. Practically every photo of Hoi An shows the famous lanterns hanging in the alleys. The alleys are really enchanting. You could spend a few days here just sitting in a street café and soaking up the flair of the colonial architecture.
Things to do and see in Hoi An
- Japanese Bridge: The 18-metre-long bridge is the city’s landmark and connects two historic parts of the city. It used to be a Chinese trading temple.
- Central Market: Be amazed at all the fruits, vegetables and other foodstuffs available in central Vietnam.
- Fujian Assembly Hall with temple and hall. Many beautiful statues.
- Quan Di Temple
- Night market: Here you can buy everything from lanterns to clothes and souvenirs for tourists.
- Lantern workshop: Learn how to make your own pretty lanterns.
- Cooking classes: Hoi An is famous for its cooking classes, where you can learn the secrets of Vietnamese cuisine.
- Folklore Museum, for those interested in traditional clothing and objects.
- Tailoring: Hoi An is the place to get your clothes tailored for little money.
- Eating by the river: In the evening, lanterns glow on the river, creating a beautiful atmosphere for dining.
- In the surroundings of Hoi An, it’s worth taking a detour to Thien Ma village. Take a bike ride to the famous Thanh Toan brick bridge for a short breather away from the hustle and bustle.
Beaches in Central Vietnam
South of Da Nang, wide sandy beaches stretch for kilometres to Nha Trang. Central Vietnam is a good choice for a beach holiday in spring and summer. It is best to combine a round trip in Central Vietnam with a beach holiday. The best-known and most beautiful beaches are Binh Minh Beach, Non Nuoc Beach, An Bang, Ha My and Tam Ky.
Are you still looking for a hotel for your beach holiday in Central Vietnam?
My Son: Vietnam’s Angkor Wat
My Son is known as the Vietnamese Angkor Wat. For centuries, My Son played one of the most important roles in Hinduism in the region. The temples were built by the Cham culture and are famous for their filigree wall paintings. My Son is therefore a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Anyone who has visited Hindu temples elsewhere will recognise the cultural influences.
Unfortunately, large parts of the temple complex were destroyed during the Vietnam War and the original splendour can only be guessed at. Nevertheless, what is still to be seen is worth the trip there.
Practical information for Central Vietnam
When is the best time to travel to Central Vietnam?
The best time to visit Central Vietnam is during the dry season from February to May, with temperatures between 24 and 28 degrees Celsius during the day. The summer months are really hot and just right for a beach holiday. The rainy season starts in September.
When is the rainy season in Central Vietnam?
The rainy season lasts from September to December in Central Vietnam. Avoid November, when the typhoon season is at its peak. Roads can become impassable due to flooding and landslides.
When is peak tourist season in Central Vietnam?
The peak tourist season in Central Vietnam runs from mid-December to the end of April. Temperatures are pleasant. It is less crowded in Central Vietnam in summer because some tourists find it too hot. However, it is the best season for a beach holiday in Central Vietnam.
Do I need a visa to enter Vietnam?
For tourist stays up to a maximum of 15 days, the Republic of Vietnam requires nationals of
- South Korea
- United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
no visa. Other nationals or for longer stays a visa must be obtained before arrival. Generally, for visa-free entry, a return ticket must be carried and the passport must be valid for at least 6 months.
Which plugs do I need in Vietnam?
Type A, C and D sockets are used in Vietnam. Type C is also the one commonly used in continental Europe (except Switzerland). It is better to take a travel adapter with you so that you can actually use every socket in Vietnam.