The South-Central Coasts and Highlands



Vietnam's South-Central Coast and Highlands offer up a splendid contrast of attractions. Travel by road or rail through coastal towns with long beaches and clear, warm waters, to the cool misty highlands, with pine forests, flower farms, coffee plantations, and ethnic minority villages. Traveling by road or rail takes you past emerald rice paddies and terraces; Dr. Seuss–like dragonfruit farms; eerie salt flats; and exotic temples.

The fishing village Phan Thiet and the resort town of Mui Ne are the first major coastal centers when heading northeast from Ho Chi Minh City. Although near-neighbors, the two towns are vastly different: Phan Thiet is a hive of local activity, with a picturesque fishing fleet and some cheap-and-cheerful seafood joints, while Mui Ne is a strip of hotelsRead More
, B&Bs, and resorts fronting a narrow and often windy beach, popular with kitesurfers. The area is flanked by towering, desertlike sand dunes, belying the fact that the highlands are less than 160 km (100 miles) away. Further north is the beach city of Nha Trang, with many luxurious five-star resorts and an enticing mix of eateries. Mui Ne and Nha Trang are joined by just over 322 km (200 miles) of stunning coastline, through the small cities of Phan Rang and Cam Ranh. High in the mountains to the west, where the air is crisp and cool, is Dalat, “Le Petit Paris.” Founded by the French in the early 1900s as an escape from the steamy lowlands, the Central Highlands’ biggest city still draws visitors from all over. Dalat can be the starting point for a deeper exploration of the Central Highlands, including the scenic Lak Lake, home to Vietnam’s now retired elephant hunters, the coffee capital Buon Ma Thuot, the city of Pleiku where fighting raged during the war, and the riverside town of Kon Tum, a great base for treks to hill-tribe villages. Between Ho Chi Minh City and Dalat, at the base of the Central Highlands, is the Cat Tien National Park, home to gibbons, sun bears, and many other rare animals and birds. North of Nha Trang, on the coast, lies the truly hidden gem Quy Nhon. Just outside the coastal town of Quang Ngai lies a sobering reminder of the savage toll war often exacts on the innocent: the Son My Memorial, erected in memory of the victims of the My Lai massacre.

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