Vietnam's long, lovely Central Coast has iconic sandy beaches, ancient Cham ruins, and fascinating royal tombs and pagodas. The highlights of the region are Hoi An and Hue, two of the country’s most interesting and hospitable cities, but a visit to the central provinces isn’t complete without a few days spent exploring inland, around the incredible karst formations and caves of Phong Nha Khe Be National Park.
As you travel around this region, expect to catch glimpses of the emerald-green South China Sea and scenes of traditional Vietnamese rural life as they have appeared for centuries. The age-old rhythm of planting and harvesting continues undisturbed, and you’ll see families drying their rice in their front yards only inches from the road against a stunning backdrop: the dramatic peaks of the Truong Son Mountains cascading into the sea. The culinary curious will love Hoi An, an enigmatic but hip coastal town full of old-world charm, with some of the best street food and restaurants in the region. Originally a port trading village, it is incredibly well preserved. Amble around 200-year-old homes incorporating architectural elements from traditional Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese styles, reflecting those who populated Hoi An over the centuries. This is also Central Vietnam’s gateway to diverse mountainous countryside, home to hill tribes.
Hugging the coastline north of Hoi An is 30 km (19 miles) of tropical white sandy beaches lined with some of the most luxurious beach hotels in the country, and three international golf courses. Just inland, the spectacular Marble Mountain range creates a beautiful backdrop for golf-loving escapists.
A little farther north is Danang, once an important U.S. Air Force base during the Vietnam War. Today it is the country’s fastest growing city, with an international dining scene, stunning beaches, great street food, vibrant nightlife, and the region’s gateway airport.
Once the capital of Vietnam and the home of its emperors, Hue, north of Danang, was once largely in ruins, the consequence of both French attacks in the late 19th century and American bombings during the Vietnam War. Only during the past decade have efforts been made to restore Hue's imperial architecture. Today the Imperial City continues to attract visitors with the grandeur of its royal past. From here it’s a three-hour drive north across the DMZ, a must for military buffs only, to the limestone mountain, caves, and grottoes of Phong Nha Kha Be National Park, a bucket-list destination for adventurists and home to the biggest cave on the planet, Han Son Doong.