When most people think of Vietnam, they immediately think of Hanoi (the capital of Vietnam) in the North or possibly Ho Chi Minh in the South. But if you’re looking for the ultimate Vietnamese experience, then you’ve got to venture to Central Vietnam for everything from mouth-watering local delicacies to cultural and historical sites.
7 things to do in Vietnam for the ultimate experience:
1. Explore Hoi An’s Ancient Town
Once a flourishing port city in the 1500s to the 1700s, Hoi An’s old town features some 800 buildings such as temples, shophouses, pagodas, colonial houses that are very well preserved. Grab a map of Hoi An’s ancient town (or keep one on your phone) and spend the day visiting museums, ancient houses, assembly halls, and ancient tombs.
Some of my personal favorite sites are the Fujian Assembly Hall, the Japanese Covered Bridge, and the Hoi An Museum. The whole area is completely walkable or cyclable – cars aren’t even allowed on some streets – making it possible to spend the whole day in town.
Tip: Don’t forget to dress conservatively (meaning clothes that cover your knees and shoulders), especially if you want to visit the temples and churches.
2. Take a photo by the colorful lanterns at night
Another thing Hoi An is known for? The colorful lanterns that brighten up the riverside at night. If you’ve seen those picturesque photos on Instagram with people posing by lanterns, Hoi An is probably the place they were at. You’ll find many shops selling old-fashioned lanterns (no not the ones you take for camping!), and you can stop to take a photo and even buy one and release it by the river.
3. Go on a day trip to the Marble Mountains and My Son Sanctuary
Named after the five natural elements, the Marble Mountains are more than just your typical mountains. Think tunnels and caverns with pagodas and religious carvings! The My Son (pronounced ‘me sun’) Sanctuary, on the other hand, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that reminds me of the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
I’ll be honest, getting around Central Vietnam can be a bit tricky due to the language barrier. I recommend taking a tour so that all the logistics are already taken care of. Many tour providers have excellent tours from Da Nang to the Marble Mountains and My Son Sanctuary, which is perfect for hitting two sites in one go!
4. Spend the day in Ba Na Hills and get a snap at the Golden Bridge
When I first saw pictures of Ba Na Hills and the Golden Bridge, I immediately added it to my Vietnam bucket list. Then after further research, the news just kept getting better and better. The cable car ride to the top, the rustic French village, an amusement park with a roller coaster, a wine cellar, spectacular gardens, and of course the Instagrammable Golden Bridge – there are just so many things to do! It can easily be overwhelming.
While Ba Na Hills is around a 45-minute drive from Da Nang, many find it easier to go on an arranged tour that again, takes care of the logistics for you.
5. Visit Hue City via the Hai Van Pass
Did you know that before Hanoi was named the capital of Vietnam, the imperial city of Hue was actually the seat of power? This impressively decadent walled city is full of beautiful architecture, heavily detailed tombs, and well-preserved pagodas and temples. So for all the history lovers out there, I’d definitely recommend you add this to your itinerary.
The best way to get from Hue from Da Nang is via the Hai Van Pass, which is a long and winding road along the coastline of Vietnam. With the panoramic views of the abandoned white beaches and coastlines, you’ll probably be stopping every now and then just to appreciate and take in the views.
6. Eat the food!
One of the best ways to learn about a country is through its local cuisine. I don’t know about you, but eating comes hand in hand with traveling, and I won’t lie when I say that the reason I wanted to go to Vietnam in the first place was yep, you guessed it, the food! Think banh mi, pho, bun cha, banh xeo, and Vietnamese coffee! (I’m already salivating!)
The best place to find good local food? The streets! Don’t be surprised to find miniature monoblock tables and chairs set by the sidewalk along the narrow streets of Vietnam. If you see a lot of locals hanging out, then you know it’s a good place to sample some local delicacies. While I recommend trying anything and everything, some staple must-eats (besides what I already mentioned above!) are banh cuon, mi quang, goi cuon, and com tam.
7. Watch the fire breathing show on the Dragon Bridge
Where else will you see a fire breathing dragon? Every weekend the Dragon Bridge – aptly named for its dragon shape and design – closes, allowing tourists and locals to gather on the bridge to watch the metal dragon head spout plumes of fire and water. Maybe it’s the Vietnamese version of a fireworks show, but whatever the case, it’s free and always a sight to behold!
Chinny is a 20-something writer based in Manila. One of TripGuru’s resident bloggers, she can usually be found buying cheap tickets and planning her next trip to wherever the wind takes her.
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