Getting Oriented

The Annamite Mountain range that marks the border between Vietnam and Laos hugs the Central Coast, and it's relatively easy to travel around. South are the flatlands of Hoi An, an ancient port town surrounded by rice fields and organic farms, which are fed by tributaries of the Thu Bon River, carving the landscape into tiny rural islands out to the East Sea and the marine-protected Cham Island archipelago. An hour away to Hoi An’s east, the Champa kingdom of My Son lies in the valley of the Truong Son Mountains, which continue all the way north, bordering the coastal city of Danang, a 40-minute drive from Hoi An. Farther north, the two-hour journey to Hue takes you through the mountain ranges of Bach Ma through sweeping, low-lying countryside and onward, to the karst mountain region of Phong Nha, a four-hour drive from Hue.

Hoi An. Fast gaining status as Vietnam’s culinary capital, the atmospheric river town of Hoi An is quite rightly one of Vietnam’s top destinations. The big draw here is the Old Town Quarter, a lantern-lit labyrinth of ancient Indochine architecture, traders’ houses, and temples, a short bike ride through rural countryside from Hoi An’s other major draw—its beaches.

Danang and Around. Three kilometers (2 miles) from Central Vietnam’s main airport is Danang City, a buzzy urban sprawl of skyscrapers and colonial architecture with a vibrant dining and nightlife scene. The luxury beach resorts along the city’s coastline are the main attraction, along with the Marble Mountains.

Hue. The onetime Imperial Capital of Vietnam is the place to slow down and take in the country’s regal past. Explore the Citadel, Imperial Palace, museums, and emperors’ tombs, and take a cruise on the Perfume River. For a more rural vibe, a short drive through fishing villages and lagoons takes you to undeveloped beaches lined with seafood shacks.

DMZ Once one of the most heavily militarized areas in the world and the setting for some of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War is the DMZ. Hamburger Hill, Khe San, the Rockpile, and the Vinh Moc Tunnels are all located here.

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Hang Son Doong is the world’s largest cave, but it’s just one of many in this spectacular park, where a vast network of underground caves, awesome jungle scenery, and fascinating history form the perfect backdrop for outdoor adventure.

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