Danang. Hoi An. Hue. These are the three major tourist destinations in Central Vietnam. We are combining them into one blog post because synergy. And laziness.
A quick summary:
Danang: Third largest city in Vietnam. A relaxed beach city (at least where we stayed). Many Asian tourists (both domestic (read: Vietnamese) and foreign (read: Chinese)). Has a dragon bridge.
Hoi An: ‘Old Town’ area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated along a river with a mix of French and Eastern architecture. Well known for its tailoring. The city where all the Westerners hang out. Discernable lack of a dragon bridge.
Hue: Another river town. Known for the old imperial city (walled off compound with Chinese influenced architecture). A town with a nice local feel to it. Zero dragon bridges.
Overall, we enjoyed our time in Central Vietnam. Each city has its own unique flavor.
High Level. Night bus. Moped. Train.
- Night bus from Dalat to Danang. As far as night buses go, this one was pretty good. We arrived after 6 AM which was nice.
- Moped to Hoi An. Getting to Hoi An from Danang is easy. One road along the coast.
- Train from Danang to Hue. The train is only four hours and the views are INCREDIBLE. The first couple of hours are along a ridge line above the coast with views back towards Danang. Very pretty way to get to Hue.
Danang. There are two main options in Danang. Stay near the beach or stay near downtown. We opted to stay near the beach (My Khe Beach to be specific) because we hadn’t been beaching in a few months, and we figured it would be easier to run near the beach (#runnerproblems). My Khe Beach thoughts: The food game was mediocre (and limited) but the beach itself was beautifully maintained and it is super easy to get a run in. We had read most hotels in the area charge 300K dong for a private and that is exactly what we paid.
Hue. We stayed at two places – Hue Happy Homestay and Sunny Fine Guesthouse. Both were great places with nice owners and good breakfast.
Bun Bo Hue. If a dish has a city’s name in it, it is advisable you try said dish while you are visiting the city. So when in Hue, try Bun Bo Hue. Bun Bo Hue is a soup with lemongrass, beef, and rice noodles.
Che. Che in Vietnam is like ABC Special in Malaysia. It is a very diverse dessert (there are tons of different iterations) usually consisting of fresh fruit, yogurt, ice, and gelatin bits.
Dragon Bridge. The dragon bridge in Danang is basically the coolest bridge ever made. I mean, seriously, why aren’t all of the bridges in the world designed to look like a dragon? If I ever am put in charge of the department of transportation of any state in the United States, my first directive will be to mandate that all future bridges be designed to look like a dragon. This state would then embark on record economic prosperity because all citizens would be inspired to be more dragon-like (which is to say awesome) on a daily basis.
I know what you’re probably thinking, “A bridge that looks like a dragon. Big whoop, Sam.” But what if I were to tell you that the bridge also breaths fire and spits water. Would that change your mind? Darn right it would change your mind! Moral of the story – go check out the dragon bridge if you are in Danang. The fire and water show start at 9 PM on Saturday and Sunday nights. One of the best parts of the fire/water show is the fact that all of the tourists like to stand really close to the bridge to get the best pictures. This is all fine and good during the ‘fire’ portion of the show. When the ‘water’ portion starts, however, these prime locations become saturated causing a mass tourist evacuation which is, arguably, more fun to watch than the fire and water show.
Road trip to Hoi An. We didn’t want to commit to a night in Hoi An, so we did it as a day trip, via moped, instead.
Cooking Class. We finally took a cooking class! Cooking classes are a popular attraction throughout SE Asia. Every country has one. We had been wanting to do one for awhile and the timing finally worked out in Danang. Overall, we had a good experience. The cooking class included a stop by a typical Vietnamese coffee shop, shopping at an open air market, a stop at a small vegetable farm, and finally, cooking delicious eats. It was quite a bit of cooking, my back was aching by the end, but the food was delicious and the teacher was helpful and informative. For more information on the class we did, click HERE.
Our menu consisted of the following items
- Three friends
- Fried spring rolls
- Vietnamese rice pancakes
- Mango salad
- Fresh fruit! The fruit component of the meal was basically whichever fruits we wanted to try from the market. We ended up trying mangosteen, lychee, and custard apples, three fruits we had been wanting to try for awhile but were unsure how we were supposed to eat them. Great success!
Marble Mountain. This is THE site to see in Danang and it is almost exactly what the name implies – a mountain made from marble. Mountain is a bit of a stretch (I think Marble Hill would be a more accurate statement) but they aren’t my mountain/hills. This is where we experienced the whole attempted motorbiking scam I mentioned in our ‘The Wall’ post a month ago or so.
Overall, we enjoyed the trip to Marble Mountain. It has some neat looking pagodas, caves, and lookout points. It can get pretty busy, so definitely go early. Also, we were a little put off by the huge elevator built into the side of the mountain. But that’s Vietnam for ya. Two more interesting tidbits: one – marble is super slippery. The paths to the lookout points require you to climb over small rocks and boulders. These marble rocks and boulders have been worn down by the thousands of tourists visiting every day and are now super slippery. If it is raining, good luck with that. Interesting tidbit number two – supposedly during the American/Vietnam War, the Viet Cong had a hospital in Marble Mountain and at that time it was within shouting distance of a US Marine base. Hiding in plain site, no?
Lady Buddha. Lady Buddha is a dominating figure in Danang. The statue is located on a peninsula sticking out into the South China Sea just north of town and is easily visible from most places in town. As the name implies the statue is a rendering of lady Buddha made out of a single slab of marble. It is HUGE. Very impressive to see in person. Also, the temple grounds surrounding the statue are equally impressive. Well worth a visit.
Imperial City in Hue. We debated for a good 15 minutes whether we should go inside the imperial city or if we should go to an air conditioned coffee shop instead. It was such a hot day! We ended up checking out the Imperial City, and we are happy we did!
Easy runs. Long, easy, and uninterrupted which is practically unheard of in SE Asia.
Dragon Bridge. I’ve discussed this enough.
Hoi An UNESCO fee. The good ole tourist tax. If you want to walk around the ‘Old Town’ area in Hoi An, be prepared to pay a steep tourist tax (I think it was around $10 USD/person).. or not. In theory, any tourist walking into Hoi An should be asked to pay a fee in order to ‘preserve’ the area. This fee allows you to walk down some streets and also gives you access to a few sites (maybe? I’m not sure about the sites.) We found the enforcement to be both confusing and inconsistent. We were at a coffee shop on the outside of the paywall watching tourists walk towards the collection booth. The fee collectors at this site stopped maybe 40% of the tourists, while the other 60% walked through without a second glance. Then, another fee collector came and began stopping every single person. At another gate, the fee collector was stopping MAYBE 5% of the tourists walking by.
Full disclosure, we walked by the 5% stopper without being asked for money. Do we feel guilty for not paying $20 USD to walk through the streets of Hoi An? Not at all. I find these types of tourist taxes incredibly frustrating. I completely understand, and support, charging a fee to maintain sites. That’s what happens at national parks, and I’m all for it. My frustration comes into play when the enforcement is not uniform or, more accurately, when only tourists are charged a fee. Mostly because this means enforcement becomes based on what a person looks like – what they are wearing, the color of their skin, what they are carrying, and typically, the mood of the enforcer on a given day. I’m also not entirely convinced the fee goes to ‘preservation’.
Beach mannerisms in Asia. We arrived in Danang the late morning and immediately went for a walk along the beach. The was probably noon or shortly thereafter. During our walk we remarked to each other on how empty the beach was. There were a few people in the water and a few more scattered along the sand, but it felt eerily empty. We had heard the beach was a major tourist attraction, and we were expecting tons of people to be out and about.
Later in the day, right around sunset, we headed back out to the beach for another walk. This time, the beach was PACKED. The roped off swimming areas (there was one square section every half mile or so) were so crowded there was no way anyone was swimming. Just a mass of people hanging out in the water. The sand was equally crowded: families on blankets, young couples, the whole nine yards. It was exactly what we had expected to see earlier in the day. Supposedly, this is due to the desire in most Asian cultures to be as fair-skinned as possible, thus resulting in beachgoers from these cultures spending the sunniest parts of the day indoors and limiting beach time to the mornings and afternoons/evenings.
Beach Maintenance (at My Khe Beach). I briefly mentioned this above, but Danang does a GREAT job of cleaning its beaches. On my morning run I saw at least ten people out picking up trash and raking the sand along the beach. I also saw a suspicious stream of stinky, slimy, green-tinted water emptying into the sea, but it was a good mile away from the main beach area so that’s OK? Regardless, Danang invests in the resources to keep its beach clean which is a refreshing site in Vietnam.
Sidewalk Tax. Spend a few hours in Vietnam and you’ll quickly notice large numbers of buildings and houses that are skinny (width) and tall (height). It is not uncommon to see a house being 10 feet wide and four stories tall. Our cooking class teacher informed us this is due to property taxes in Vietnam being calculated based on the length of the sidewalk in front of said house.
Children peeing in the street. This is a thing in Vietnam. I saw it happen at least three times during our trip. Situation as follows: parent walks out the front door of a restaurant with their child. The child is between the ages of one and three. Parent makes the child stand on the curb in front of the restaurant and pulls down the child’s pants. Child pees into the street. In this example the child is a boy, though I did see a girl do this once. Child finishes peeing. Parent pulls up the child’s pants and both walk back into the restaurant. The first time I saw this I didn’t know what to feel – disgusted (that’s what bathrooms are for, yo), happy (good for them for not being afraid of a little nudity), or embarrassed (Was I staring? Should I not have looked at them?). A few days later, however, I almost walked right into one young boy’s line of fire (i.e. a toddler almost pissed on me) and I decided street peeing is annoying. To review: Dragon bridges – awesome. Street peeing – not awesome.