Photo Courtesy of Martin Fisch
Vietnam lends itself well to epics. Snaking down from the Chinese border to the Gulf of Thailand, its towering peaks, emerald-green paddies, and endless white-sand beaches offer enough natural beauty to inspire even the most jaded traveler. One of the highlights is the central coast. Da Nang, the co…untry’s fifth-largest city, is the area's chief hub. While the city is fast developing as a destination in its own right, neighbour Hoi An is long established as one of Vietnam’s premier tourist towns. Together, the two cities act as a launch pad for visitors to explore world-class heritage attractions and leisure options that range from golf courses and casinos to cooking classes and bicycle rides around bucolic countryside—plus, of course, some of Vietnam’s best stretches of sand.
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The best time to visit the central coast is in the spring (Feb–May) when temperatures are a mostly pleasant 25–30 degrees. Summer can be scorching and uncomfortable, with temperatures of up to 35 degrees, while the monsoon season (October–January) brings lots of rain and temperatures of around 30 degrees.
There are big plans for Da Nang’s international airport, but as yet most international visitors arrive via Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, from which there are regular domestic flights. Bangkok Airways opened a new direct flight to Da Nang from the Thai capital in May 2015, making that city another transit possibility.
There are several options for getting around. Motorbike taxis are plentiful and cheap in both Da Nang and Hoi An, while hiring a motorbike is a possibility if you need complete flexibility. Overall, taxis are generally the safest and most efficient method of transport, although a touch more expensive. Taxi scams are not uncommon, but can usually be avoided by riding with a trusted taxi company—Mai Linh and Vinasun are two of Vietnam’s most reputable.
Locals in Da Nang get their kicks from my quang, a dish of rice noodles topped with pork, shrimp, banana blossoms, herbs, and peanuts finished off with a spoonful of sweet-hot chili jam. The historic port of Hoi An, meanwhile, augments a culinary legacy which encompasses traditional dishes like cao lau (a noodle dish with origins in the soba noodles the Japanese brought with them on trade missions) with a cutting-edge restaurant scene. Some of the best chefs in Vietnam put their own spin on the country's seemingly limitless supply of inspirational source material.
In Vietnam, Da Nang is viewed favorably mostly for its quality of living. It does, however, have a small but lively cultural scene and there are regular live music performances by local and visiting bands in such venues as Waterfront and Seventeen Saloon. Hoi An is more highbrow. There are a few decent galleries, and visiting international bands and DJs liven up the atmosphere at venues like Soul Kitchen on An Bang beach.
Late January to mid-February is a good time to visit if you want to breathe in the excitement of Tet, the lunar new year. The lead up to the celebrations sees Da Nang, Hoi An, and surrounding towns and villages come alive with displays of moon cakes, red banners, joss sticks, and red envelopes for giving lucky money (mung tuoi) to children. Hoi An’s full moon/lantern festivals, meanwhile, are another seductive reason to visit the ancient town throughout the year.
For fantastic seafood, Da Nang is hard to beat. The quality is generally high in most places. If you are looking for a bargain feast, things get cheaper the further north towards the Son Tra Peninsula you go from the city’s main My Khe beach.
After arriving on something of a whim, Duncan Forgan has spent the past eight months living and working in Bangkok. In a previous life he was a features writer for the national newspapers in his native Scotland, an editor of various travel guides in the Middle East, and a long-term freelancer in Vietnam. Now he prefers to discover new street food and to drive his motorbike around the sois. When he's not comparing venues for Isaan food, he writes and broadcasts for a variety of outlets worldwide on Asian travel, culture, and cuisine.