Central Vietnam--Da Nang, Hoi An and Hue
Mar 19, 2018
|Here we are now on the coast in Central Vietnam, in a stunning beach town called Da Nang. During the Vietnam War, the Americans used Da Nang as an airforce base. This was quite a strategic location because it was midway along the Ho Chi Minh trail which was the target of where the US dropped millions of tons of bombs. This was the main artery used by the Communist factions for transporting supplies and weapons from China and Russia down through Indochina. As well, it was a perfect place to transfer soldiers to when they were able to take a beach leave. You can still see a few aircraft hangars left from that period. In fact, a US aircraft carrier was just in dock last week to conduct some exercises.
Last November Da Nang hosted the prestigious APEC conference at which Justin Trudeau and even Trump attended. What a party that would have been...NOT, so glad we were not invited. But it was a great way to showcase this idyllic, yet underdeveloped beach community.
Our guide told us that Asian people, including those from North Vietnam, like to vacation in Da Nang. However, the foreigners seem to prefer Hoi An, a mere 15 km away. Since we are mixed couple, we'll fit into either town quite nicely, thank you! Unfortunately, though we have arrived on a day that it is raining so no beach day for us. Our hotel sits at the base of Marble Mountain, at the end of a beautiful 10 km beach. There are 7 pools on the property in case you get bored of the pristine beach. There is an unbelievable amount of new construction throughout this town--mostly resort hotels. The adage "build it and they will come" certainly applies here. As well, there are 2 very nice golf courses located adjacent to our hotel...one called BRG Da Nang, a Greg Norman designed course with another Jack Nicklaus course forthcoming and the other called Montgomerie Links. There is NO question of a doubt that golf is a sport played exclusively by the wealthy, mostly tourists as it is totally unaffordable for the locals, which has been pretty much the case for all the countries we've visited on this trip.
Marble Mountain used to be where marble was mined to sculpt all sorts of statues big and small but the government shut that down a few years back so now all the workshops located here must source their marble elsewhere. However the sculpting is still done at the base of the mountain.
Other than the beach this area is well known for its seafood. Vietnam is a massive exporter of seafood, especially shrimp, squid and tuna (mostly to Japan). Fishing boats go out each dusk and bring their catch to the wholesale fish market or beach by 2 or 3am to sell to local restaurants or to customers who will resell seafood at other local markets. By 9:30am when we toured through these areas, it was already Miller Time for the fishermen! For us tourists, we had the benefit of dining out at one of many restaurants which had tanks of seafood to chose from for dinner and prepared in whichever way we wanted.
Our next stop was the sister town of Hoi An. WE LOVED HOI AN!! The old town is another UNESCO site so there cannot be any new construction close by. The bigger resort hotels were about 20 minute drive in which was where we were based. Beautiful hotel but a bit too far for our preference. We loved the vibe of this little town. It reminded us of Luang Prabang which we also loved. There were lots of great shops, coffee shops and restaurants. It was very picturesque with a river running through it and it was also closed off to cars completely and motorbikes in the evening to make it pedestrian friendly. This little town is also a mecca for many handicrafts: lantern making, tailoring, silk weaving, embroidery and sculpting!
We took a cooking class at the Red Bridge cooking school. We met at the Hai Cafe in Old Town, had a tour of the market, then was transported along the river to their cooking school. We were a bit disappointed with the class as we felt it was not as participatory as our class at the Tamarind Restaurant and it felt like we were rushed through the process--they have 3 sessions a day so it felt rather mechanical. We were obviously spoiled in Luang Prabang! However, the dishes we partially prepared and tasted were delicious and so we plan to make some of the recipes when we return home. Aside from the Red Bridge, there are many other cooking schools in town.
While in Hoi An, we took an excursion to My Son, another Hindu archaeological site from the early 8th century during the Champa empire rule. The complex may have been quite large at one point but like Angkar Wat which was abandoned for 300 years until the French rediscovered it in the 19th century and then it was heavily bombed by the US during the Vietnam War because the Viet Cong used this site as one of their military bases so there were only a scattering of structures left. Although there is very little remaining on the site, it is still important for the Vietnamese people since it offers a glimpse to their ancestors. While we were visiting the site, there were over 200 primary students also on a school trip. The children were eager to speak to us and many of them asked our names and what country we are from.
Another observation we made was how few young people are smoking and how few people smoke in general. The older generation tend to smoke more than the youth which is a positive trend. What we can gather, there is no sign that marijuana is going to take off anytime soon either!
Following our stay in Hoi An we took a three hour drive to Hue. It was a spectacular drive along the coastline and then over the mountain. Our first night in Hue we went for a walk and stumbled across a quaint little restaurant called Nook. It was the top rated restaurant for travelers on Trip Advisor. Located in a back alley, this two storey open air restaurant had a casual atmosphere which combined great photos and music. For dinner we had two beers, lemon tea, pho and pad thai for less than $11. To top it off the food was delicious.
While in Hue, we visited the Citadel. Within the two-meter thick and ten km long walls, surrounded by a moat, contained several ornate pagodas and most importantly it was the last residence of the emperor and his family before they were overthrown by the Viet Cong. The highlight for the day was to have a vegetarian lunch at a monastery, prepared and served by female monks.
Good-bye Hue! We fly to Hanoi in the morning and then boarding the night train to Sapa. Stay tuned for our adventures in the north.