Travelling Vietnam’s Central Coast is very easy, inexpensive, and totally delightful. This was the middle part of my 7 Cities in 7 Days plan to see Vietnam. Picking out a coastal town to visit was not an easy decision, but in the end I was not disappointed.
I flew direct from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang. After 24 hours in the loud, polluted city of Saigon, this was a welcome break. Da Nang has a population of less than one million and a land area of just under 500 square miles. Da Nang is an important deep water port for Vietnam and is known for their white sandy beaches. However, what struck me the most were the beautiful bridges. They were brilliantly and colorfully lit with an insane amount of lights that continuously changed colors. Sadly, just as I got my tripod set up to take a photo of Dragon Bridge, the lights went off! This happens at midnight every night.
I booked a room at Fortune Hotel through Agoda.com. The rate was $29 USD. The hotel is only minutes from the airport via a cheap cab ride and is located directly across from a lovely amusement park called Asia Park. I had some trouble checking in as the man at the front desk kept telling me the rooms were “closed.” He was trying to say they had no rooms. I kept telling him I had a reservation already and he did not understand. Eventually this was sorted out and I found my way to the musty smelling room and awaited the arrival of my CouchSurfing host.
I met a young CouchSurfer named Phú who generously offered to meet me in Da Nang. Phú lives in Hue about 4 hours away by train, so his help and enthusiasm for his country were greatly appreciated. I highly recommend CouchSurfing as a way to not only meet hosts for a place to sleep, but also people who can show you around their area. The experience is much more real than going with a tour group and much easier than going it alone.
Eating and Drinking
We started the next day with a visit to Phú’s favorite coffee shop, Cong Caphe. It is located in the heart of town directly along the Han River. Cong Caphe’s interior is tastefully filled with war remnants such as books, radios, ammo boxes, etc. It is really quite nice and the iced chocolate coconut coffee was amazing!
Getting to Hội An from Da Nang
There is a very cheap bus that runs from Da Nang to Hội An. The fee collector will almost always charge a tourist more than a local, and some of those even more than others. I was fortunate to have a local with me and he just paid the exact change (local’s rate) for both of us. The 45 minute bus ride was really a lot of fun. We chatted with backpackers from Australia and England along the way both coming and going. The horn is honked continuously and it has a very nice tone to it. Once at the bus stop it is necessary to take a cab a few more miles to the main part of town.
Hội An is a Walking Town
Imagine an ancient coastal village with a variety of architecture from many different eras, picture this without automobiles and you will have Hội An. Here you will find ancient Chinese temples, French colonial buildings, as well as beautiful Vietnamese architecture. There is also the very famous & iconic Japanese bridge topped with a pagoda. Roads are narrow and vehicular traffic is generally prohibbited when tourists are walking the streets. The only annoyance are things called “cyclos” in which tourists too lazy to walk are ridden through the streets in large baskets on a bicycle. The whole thing is quite a spectacle and is as popular as it is silly.
Beautiful and colorful architectural features are in abundance in Hội An.
Hội An is a Mixture of Tourist Trap and Authentic
Despite being such a beautiful ancient port village, it is still not possible to entirely shake the tourist trap feeling. Take for example, the photo below. I was dutifully attempting to photograph the famous Japanese Pagoda Bridge while standing on a less interesting bridge along the same canal when this man kept staring at me stroking his beard. He was relentless with asking me to take his picture. I finally did just to get him to shut up, and naturally he started asking for money.
Floral offerings to the spirits are common throughout all of Asia.
Traveling from Hội An to Hue Vietnam
Hội An is not serviced directly by train, so it is necessary to return to Da Nang to pick up the train for the trip to Hue. My host, Phú and I elected to splurge and get a sleeper car on this train ($5 instead of $4), and it was worth every penny. The train is very old, loud, and filled with diesel fumes, but it was a great experience. For the train ride the price varies depending on hard or soft seat or hard or soft sleeping berth. The hard sleeping berths have 6 beds compared to 4 in the soft berth cars. Given the price difference, it would be crazy to take anything less than a soft sleeping berth.
Travelling Vietnam’s Central Coast
This was yet another amazing experience. Considering the short airline flight from Ho Chi Minh City, it makes all the sense in the world to add an extra day to see another part of Vietnam.
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