Hanoi and Ho Chi Min City are the obvious portals for a visit to Vietnam. However, thanks to the international airport in Da Nang, discerning visitors are able to explore the central areas with ease – and in style too.
Down-town Da Nang
A visit to the city is not essential unless you want to see how Vietnam has developed. Listed attractions include a number of temples and pagodas, the Marble Mountains and a couple of bridges. Say no more.
The Imperial City in Hue (pronounced Hway) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely a highlight. The listing includes hundreds of monuments and ruins but most visitors will concentrate on the Imperial City itself, the Forbidden Purple City and the Royal Tombs. The glory days of the former capital are gone but the testimony of fabulous wealth remains. Imagine yourself as one of the imperial retinue and look out for some pampering when you get back to your hotel. Some visitors rave about evening cruises along the Perfume River, others moan about petty hassles. Those who want a glorious sunset without distraction would be better heading to the Tam Giang Lagoon where the locals are noted for their friendliness and where you can also enjoy a super-fresh seafood dinner.
Originally a trading port, Hoi’an is now a living museum with a full UNESCO World Heritage listing. Those with a passion can discover the architectural influences of China and Japan. Others may prefer the simple delights of the riverside cafés and life at a slower pace.
If you can organise your visit to coincide with the full moon then you will certainly enjoy the Ancient Town Night, better known as the Lantern Festival. Locals pay their respects to their ancestors by burning offerings and, more notably, by sending candle boats down the river. With traffic and harsh lighting on hold the atmosphere is magical and a sense of tranquil fun prevails.
The UNESCO hat-trick is completed with a visit to nearby My Son. These much older ruins are related to those at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Arrange a private excursion early or late so as to avoid the budget day-trippers, especially if you plan to take photographs.
Where to stay
Danang, Hue and Hoi’an all have luxury accommodation options. There is also a Banyan Tree resort at Lang Co. Impeccable taste, sea views and discrete seclusion will allow you to relax and unwind for the duration. If you struggle with that then check out the options for a massage or spa.
Distances between the highlights are not so great that you would need to change base in order to explore so you can settle in or move around as you see fit.
By Ian Ford is Operations Manager at Photo Tours Abroad.