Central Vietnam is known for its well-preserved historical sites, smiling locals, and soothing natural beauty. The central coast will beckon you with the promise of enriching experiences and sun-kissed days by the beach.
Stroll down the narrow streets of Hoi An’s Ancient Town, where timber frame shophouses still appear the way they did centuries ago, and the streets are aglow in colorful lanterns each night. Or acquaint yourself with the final days of the Nguyen Dynasty in Hue, where royal citadels, tombs and temples are sprinkled along the tranquil Perfume River.
In between, modern Danang City offers a taste of some of Vietnam’s most luxurious resorts and top golf courses — as well as one of the country’s best beaches. And a few hours away, Phong Nha’s spectacular caves are the latest frontier for nature enthusiasts.
TOP DESTINATIONS IN CENTRAL VIETNAM
With broad beaches, fantastic street food, the fabled Hai Van Pass, and a growing collection of cafes, restaurants, and bars, it is no wonder the residents of Da Nang sport some of the broadest smiles in the country. The warm sands of My Khe Beach sweep south from the mountainous Son Tra Peninsula. Da Nang hosts some of Vietnam’s top luxury resorts, but much of the beach still belongs to the people who make it their playground, gym, and source of livelihood.
Top things to do in Da Nang
Enjoy the beach
Be sure to set the alarm clock early at least once on your stay. Along the shore, fishermen sell the day’s catch, football and volleyball matches spring up all around, and people jog, stroll or simply relax on the sand.
See the Son Tra Peninsula
The Son Tra Peninsula strikes out into the ocean, its densely forested hillsides are home to the endangered red-shanked douc langur — one of the world’s most striking primates. Grab some binoculars, hire a motorbike, and head out for a day of wildlife spotting.
Learn about Cham culture
The Cham people once ruled much of Central Vietnam, and ruins of their temples have been excavated around Da Nang. The superb Cham Museum of Sculpture houses the largest collection of Cham sculpture in the world.
Dine on street food
Da Nang is a dream destination for foodies, with scores of seafront eateries and street food stalls. Mi Quang — a dish of rice noodles, pork, shrimp, quail eggs, peanuts and fresh herbs — is must-try delight.
Explore Marble Mountains
Marble Mountains is a collection of five outcrops topped with atmospheric pagodas, only 15 minutes from the city. Set out in the early morning to take a serene walk-up stone step, explore hidden caves, and admire ancient shrines.
Da Nang Weather
Da Nang is a great destination year-round. However, the best months to visit are from March to May and September to October, when the weather is warm. June to August sees little rain and the sea is clear and calm. The rainy season from November to February brings long rains and moody weather.
Da Nang Transport
The Da Nang International Airport has several daily connections to major cities in Vietnam. There are also a growing number of international connecting flights. Trains and buses pass through Da Nang, making it a convenient travel hub to explore the central region. In town, taxis are abundant, as well as ride-hailing apps. Popular trips from Da Nang are easily arranged, whether heading to Marble Mountain, Son Tra Peninsula, Hoi An, or Hai Van Pass, motorbike or car tours are readily available.
Hoi An is a place where the bold march of progress peters into a leisurely amble. In this one-time trading port, the Thu Bon River meanders past crumbling shop houses and weathered pagodas, while sampans come and go from the old ferry quay. Outside the Old Town, two-lane roads slice through waving rice fields and emerge at a frothy coastline. Stay a couple of days, and Hoi An’s easygoing beauty and lantern-lit nights may leave you hopelessly beguiled.
Top things to do in Hoi An
Get lost in the Old Town
Merchants from China, Japan and later Europe settled in Hoi An from the 15th to 19th centuries, creating a unique architectural fusion. Bring your camera as you tread the Japanese Bridge, Tan Ky ancestral house, and Phuc Kien Assembly Hall.
Treat your taste buds
Dining in Hoi An is pure pleasure. Farms and fishing boats contribute just-picked vegetables, seafood, herbs and fruit to the markets daily. Three quintessential Hoi An dishes are Cao Lau, Hoanh Thanh, and white rose dumplings.
Cycle in the countryside
Sunrise in Hoi An is a prime time to grab your hat and hop on a bike. With any luck, you will find yourself in a sea of green, with water buffalo flicking their tails. In Cam Thanh and Tra Que, you will pass vegetable farms and frond-fringed ponds.
Hit the beach
An Bang Beach, just a 10-minute drive from the Ancient Town, promises seafood lunches, sandy stretches and cool waves. Bring your books, beach blankets, and bikinis; or aboard a boat to the pristine shores of the Cham Islands.
Marvel at My Son
My Son Sanctuary is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site 40 kilometers from Hoi An. Tucked into a valley near a shaded stream, the Cham people built these temples. The surviving structures date from the 7th to the 13th century.
Hoi An Weather
Expect rainy days and several storms from October to January. If you arrive at the start of the year, bring a few extra layers to stay warm. March to May are the best months to visit, but you can also see Hoi An from June to August if you don’t mind the heat.
Hoi An Transport
The international airport in Da Nang is a 50-minute drive from the Ancient Town. There are domestic flights from Vietnam’s major cities to Da Nang, as well as direct flights from regional hubs. Hoi An can also be reached by bus or shuttle vans from nearby destinations, such as Nha Trang, Da Nang or Hue. Walking and cycling is ideal for sightseeing in the Ancient Town and the countryside. Taxis and ride-hailing apps can also take you around. Ask your hotel about a private car for trips further afield.
Perched on a pristine stretch of the southern coast, Nha Trang is a playground for sunseekers. Days here are spent dining on delicious seafood, snorkelling around stunning islands, and partying on the sand after dark. Nha Trang lays claim to some of the country’s finest luxury resorts and thrilling watersports. Despite the development boom, colorful fishing villages and serene riverside restaurants are just a stone’s throw away.
Top things to do in Nha Trang
During the day, Nha Trang Beach is awash with sunbathers. A few kilometers south of the city, Long Beach is home to a clutch of local seafood joints and surfing spots. If you feel like exploring farther, hire a motorbike to Dốc Lết or Đại Lãnh beaches.
Try a mud bath
Nha Trang’s boasts a unique pair of wellness attractions: mud baths and hot springs. Hidden in the hills just north of the city are a handful of spa-like facilities, where you can sit in a healing pool of warm mud before relaxing in hot mineral water.
Get on the water
Daylong island excursions will show you around Nha Trang Bay, and a series of small islands nearby such as Monkey Island, Hòn Mun Island, and Yến Island where you’ll be greeted by beautiful, untouched shores.
Visit pagodas and palaces
Long Sơn Pagoda and its towering, 78-foot-tall Buddha statue are a sight to see, as are the centuries-old Po Nagar Cham Towers. Less-visited spots such as the Bảo Đại Villa south of Nha Trang also shed light on the region’s history.
Join the party
Nha Trang plays hard during the day, but its night time energy is unmatched. International acts and DJs regularly play beachfront parties at Sailing Club and Skylight, while lively venues around town keep the party going well into the night.
Nha Trang Weather
Rainy season in Nha Trang takes place from September to December, but the southern coast is less prone to heavy storms than its northern counterparts. In fact, Nha Trang gets the most sunshine in the country, meaning travelers can arrive at any time of year and still enjoy their coastal visit.
Nha Trang Transport
To reach Nha Trang travelers have the option of arriving by plane, train, or bus. Flights from Vietnam’s major cities connect to Nha Trang, while trains travel the coast, heading either north or south. Buses are easy enough to take from Đà Lạt, Hội An or other neighbouring destinations. Taxis are widely available in Nha Trang city. Motorbike tours are a wonderful way to pop by popular spots, from mud baths to Po Nagar Cham Tower. Cycling is another laid back option. Finally, book a speedboat tour to go island-hopping and discover hidden beaches.
Hue is a city chock-full of stories. The Kings of the Nguyen Dynasty built their feudal capital along Hue’s fertile riverbanks and atop its forested hills, but their imperial legacy is just one of many reasons to visit. Hue’s refined cuisine is the stuff of legend, and its leafy streets are lined with mossy pagodas, art déco mansions, and eye-popping markets. Through the whole scene flows the Perfume River, setting a languid pace the rest of the city is happy to follow.
Top things to do in Hue
See Imperial Vietnam
Get acquainted with Vietnam’s last royal dynastic family by exploring what survives of their 143-year reign. Roam the palaces, pavilions and theatres of the Hue Citadel and make time to visit the tombs of emperors Tu Duc, Minh Mang and Khai Dinh.
Eat like a king
You are never far from a world-class meal in Hue. Nose around the flapping-fresh produce at Dong Ba Market for a teaser, then whet your appetite with Hue’s much-loved snacks, such as Banh Khoai and Banh Beo.
Explore the city’s Buddhist roots
Hue’s serene atmosphere is most penetrating in its pagodas and monasteries. See the iconic seven-tiered tower of Thien Mụ Pagoda, then pay a visit to Tu Hieu Monastery, where Thich Nhat Hanh spent his days as a novice monk.
Cycle in the rice paddies
Hue’s photogenic streets and lush countryside are a wonderland for casual cyclists. The ride to the tile-roofed Thanh Toan Bridge is one of Hue’s most captivating, winding past vegetable farms, footbridges, and flocks of ducks.
Revisit colonial history
Travelers with an eye for architecture will enjoy seeing what remains of French influence in Hue. Stroll down Le Loi to encounter the art déco lines of La Residence Hotel, and the stately crimson buildings of Quoc Hoc High School.
Hue’s springtime months, from February to the end of April, show the historic capital in its best light. In June and July, prepare for scorching days as heat and humidity rise. The rains come in August and can last through January. Note that Hue often sees some flooding, usually from October to late in the year.
Domestic flights from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City touchdown in Hue’s Phu Bai Airport, a 30-minute drive from the city. Travelers also can hitch a train to Hue on the Reunification Express line, ride the open bus or hire a private car from the international airport in Da Nang, two hours away. If you want to spend the day exploring the Citadel, riverside and central town just walk or consider hiring a cyclo for the day. For visiting the Imperial Tombs, taxis are available, or you can hop on a bicycle.
Not long ago the sleepy village of Phong Nha barely got a mention in guidebooks, but the surprise discovery of one of the world’s largest caves has catapulted it into the adventure tourism spotlight. The Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park is a rugged swathe of limestone mountains riddled with gigantic caves. It is also home to endangered wildlife and ethnic minority groups. The gateway to this land of adventure is Phong Nha, a welcoming village on the banks of the graceful Son River.
Top things to do in Phong Nha
Join a cave expedition
Enter the magical world of Phong Nha’s caves, which number three hundred and counting. At Hang Nước Nứt, you can camp at the base of a limestone cliff, and Hang Én features a colossal main chamber with shimmering turquoise pools.
Go in search of wildlife
The ultimate way to discover Phong Nha’s flora and fauna is on Hai’s Eco Conservation Tour. Mr Hai, a young and enthusiastic conservationist, will bring you to the Wildlife Rescue Centre before trekking to the Thác Gió Falls for a cooling dip.
Explore Bồng Lai Valley
Hire a bike and pedal out to the Bồng Lai village in search of the Pub With Cold Beer. Here, only one item is on the menu: sublime grilled chicken served with unbeatable homemade peanut sauce. After lunch, ride to the pretty lookout at Wild Boar Eco Farm.
Walk the eco-trail
Nuoc Mooc Eco Trail is a serene retreat in the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park. Its wooden walkways lead to tropical forest and turquoise streams. Hire a bike, pack a picnic, and make your own adventure.
See the Big One
Hang Sơn Đoòng is said to be the largest cave in the world. It is big enough to accommodate skyscrapers and has its jungle ecosystem. Multi-day tours to Hang Sơn Đoòng last four to six magical days.
Phong Nha Weather
April to June are fantastic months to visit Phong Nha. From July to September temperatures can be on the hotter side. The rainy season runs from October to December, and the area can be prone to flooding. The cold sets in from December to February, so bring extra layers for the cool weather.
Phong Nha Transport
Trains arrive at nearby Đồng Hới train station from north and south on the Reunification Express. Direct flights from both the capital and Ho Chi Minh City are also available to Đồng Hới. The easiest way to transfer from Đồng Hới to Phong Nha is by local metered taxi. For budget travelers, buses are available from Hanoi, Huế, or Đà Nẵng. Travelers spending the day exploring caves and sights in the national park should hire a motorbike or car. Riding a bicycle along the river and the Bồng Lai Loop is a laid-back way to get around. Finally, hop on a boat to see the Son River and Phong Nha Cave.
Hidden away in the Central Highlands, Da Lat plays the cooler cousin to Vietnam’s seaside destinations. Famous for its countryside charm, Da Lat draws couples, wellness seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. This mountain resort town was once a summer getaway for the French, who left their mark in the European-inspired architecture and countless lakes. Da Lat’s main lake is the centre of the action, but amazing natural wonders await in the hills all around.
Top things to do in Da Lat
Tour the city’s landmarks
Xuan Huong Lake is the focal point of Da Lat city. Nearby, the stalls of the central market are packed with fresh flowers and colorful produce. Colonial architecture abounds in churches, art-deco hotels, and the charming railway station.
Play a round of golf
At 5,000 feet above sea level, Da Lat’s golf clubs feature hilly terrains and pine forests. Da Lat is home to one of the country’s oldest courses, the Dalat Palace Golf Club. Opened in 1933, the 18-hole course remains an iconic experience.
Hike, bike, or find a waterfall
Da Lat is an adventure destination. The dramatic terrain lends itself well to hiking, mountain biking and canyoning. Follow local guides to explore Bidoup Nui Ba National Park or blaze your own trails on Lang Biang Mountain.
Sample local coffee culture
Coffee is an integral part of Da Lat’s heritage and some of Vietnam’s best coffee is grown on the slopes around the town and served in local cafes. Visit K’Ho Coffee for a full tour of their sustainable farm and roastery.
Ride the train
Though Da Lat’s tracks no longer link up with Vietnam’s north-south railway line, you can hop on a train out to Trai Mat for a visit to the spectacular, mosaic-covered Linh Phuoc Pagoda, taking in the scenery en route.
Da Lat Weather
Often referred to as the city of eternal spring, Da Lat’s temperate climate is a highlight of every visit. Be sure to bring a jumper if you visit between November and January, and an umbrella for the rainfall from April to November. If you prefer a warmer stay, May offers the perfect window.
Da Lat Transport
Da Lat’s airport is located just 30km south of town and connects to major hubs from north to south. Sleeper buses will shuttle you from Ho Chi Minh City, while neighboring Mui Ne and Nha Trang are just a few hours away by car or shuttle van. Adventurous travelers will enjoy touring by motorbike. Popular routes go to Elephant Falls, neighboring K’ho villages, or Tuyen Lam Lake. The town itself is easy to navigate on foot or by taxi.