Mũi Né/Phan Thiet

Mũi Né and Phan Thiet are adjacent coastal towns located north of Ho Chi Minh city. Despite being relatively small, the towns have a surprising amount to offer. Aside from the obvious white sand beaches, lined with palms, there are both natural wonders, as well as historical landmarks and some more unusual activities to be found. One of the key attractions in the area are the large areas of sand dunes in varying shades of white, yellow and red located just outside of the towns. These are so vast that they almost seem like a desert, stretching into the distance in most directions. On the dunes, you can find vehicles to rent and drive across the sand dunes as well as boards to rent to be able to go sandboarding. Po Sah Inu Tower is an impressive historical site dating back over 1000 years and still in relatively good condition. Also located in the vicinity of the complex are numerous bunkers and war monuments used during the Vietnam War. Another key attraction is Fairy Stream, a shallow stream that can be walked down on foot, with stalls located in the actual stream itself. A large section of the way down is bordered by stunning rock formations which stand in stark contrast to the red sand behind and above it. Located a small distance down the stream is a small and very strange attraction, an ostrich riding corral. Which is honestly one of the most random things I’ve seen and couldn’t resist going for a ride. The entire way down the coast you will find beautiful rainbow colored boats n the hundreds and small traditional Vietnamese woven basket tugboats. I would definitely suggest a visit to either or both of these small towns as there is plenty to see and do and you can get away with spending very little money doing so.

 

 

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Da Lat

Da Lat is the central highland capital of the Lam Dong province, located in central Vietnam. The city sits at a higher altitude than the majority of other larger cities in the country,  located in the mountains as opposed to the coast. As such, the climate, foliage, and scenery are very different from that of the majority of other tourist visited cities. Da Lat offers a nice break from beaches and tropical weather and the opportunity to see another side of Vietnam. Da Lat is an agricultural hub due to its climate, with the city being surrounded by farmland and orchards. The town center is rather unusual and revolves around one large roundabout and a large rectangular one-way street encircling a building making for interesting driving. You will find more traditional Vietnamese cuisine in Da Lat than in the larger cities, along with some fantastic bakeries, offering pastries that you have never seen before in your life. Surrounding the city are numerous tourist attractions which will be discussed in their own articles. You will also find fantastic wet markets to visit, with all means of animals and fruit/veggies. Just make sure to pack a raincoat because it will definitely be raining for at least some of your time in Da Lat, hence the fertile soil.

Marble Mountain and Chùa Linh Ứng

Marble Mountain is located just outside of the city center and is well worth the visit. The site (as the name suggests) is a collection of five large marble and limestone hills, housing caves, and temples. You will find beautiful architecture, statues and art work throughout the complex. You will also find fantastic views overlooking the surrounding area, including the other limestone and marble hills. Chùa Linh Ứng is a large temple complex located out of the city on the peninsula. The complex houses numerous beautiful statues, stunning architecture and one enormous Buddhist statue overlooking the bay. You will need a few hours to cover Marble Mountain and around an hour to see Chùa Linh Ứng, both are highly worth the visit.

 

Da Nang

 

Da Nang is the third largest city in Vietnam and is located in the center of the country on the coast. While Da Nang is not the most touristy city in Vietnam it is an extremely pleasant city. I ended up spending a few days there just because of how nice the city was. Having said that there is plenty to do in the city, such as Marbel Mountain, Chùa Linh Ứng (a large temple complex with an enormous Buddhist statue), the Sun Wheel and beautiful beachfronts. The city is also filled with Communist monuments, propaganda billboards, stunning arty bridges and fantastic restaurants and bakeries. The city has a very livable feeling to it and if I were to live somewhere in Vietnam it would probably be Da Nang. In Da Nang you will also see Vietnamese daily life go on all around you, seeing sights such as scooters transporting massively oversized loads of planks, garden supplies fans and almost anything that you can think of. The city’s attractions will be covered in the following articles.

Hue

Hue is located in Central Vietnam and historically was the capital of the nation until the mid 1900s. Being the historical capital, the city is home to the Imperial City. This is supposedly one of the greatest historical attractions in Vietnam and one that I did not get to enter sadly due to construction/restoration projects. I did, however, manage to enter the outer Citadel surrounding the Imperial City. This area saw heavy fighting during the Vietnam War and as such, located throughout the Citadel is military equipment. The city also hosts some beautiful bridges which can be viewed at night covered in neon lights. Aside from the Imperial Citadel, my main reason to visit Hue was Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave. This cave is 31km long and stretches for what seems like an eternity underground. I highly suggest visiting this incredible natural attraction, as it only takes a few hours in total to get to the cave and explore it. There is a cutoff point part way into the cave where average tourists such as myself on this occasion stop due to not having the necessary equipment to go further. The cave system is absolutely stunning, filled with shades and colors, shapes and silhouettes. Another site worth visiting on the way to Paradise Cave is The Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang. This site houses the remaining frame of a church that survived a bombing run,  with a new body built onto it. There are also some unusual shrines, statues and buildings on site unlike any I have seen before. Ultimately I feel like I missed out on a lot of what Hue had to offer due to timing and being on a schedule that I had to keep to. I do highly suggest visiting it and making your way to the Imperial Citadel even though I couldn’t.

 

Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island is, in my opinion, the highlight of Ha Long Bay. The island has one smallish port town with numerous hotels, hostels, bars, markets, and restaurants. I suggest spending at least two days on the island in order to really see what it has hidden. Staying in town is a fantastic base, where you can rest and relax, but also rent a motorbike or scooter to explore the inland areas of the island. The main town area houses some fantastic markets where a traveler can pick up a large amount of pearl based jewelry for a very small cost. You can also find numerous floating restaurants throughout the harbor serving fantastic food.  Inland on the island, the first real item of note is a small hidden stairway just off of the main road, leading to a cave. Inside the cave, you will find a secret medical facility built beneath the earth during the Vietnam War. When I happened to visit, the cave was completely empty, so I was the only person there making it an extremely creepy experience. The atmosphere inside of the facility is haunting, especially knowing that numerous people died within its walls from their sustained wounds. The complete silence and dim lighting add even further to the already creepy atmosphere. I definitely suggest checking it out even if you find it a little unsettling. The next and probably main attraction on the island for me is Cat Ba National Park which you can find in the center of the island. Whether or not I took the correct route is unclear, but for me to get there I had to park my bike and walk through an abandoned village, whose only inhabitants were wild dogs and deer. This setting was also somewhat creepy, but after visiting the hospital cave, not so much. The hike to Ngu Lam Peak, an excellent observation point located in the park should not take more than an hour or so each way. The view from the peak was fantastic and looked over the landscape in every direction, showing nothing but jungle covered peaks for the most part. My only piece of advice would be to cover your body head to toe in insect repellant and to make sure that you are taking malaria tablets because mosquitos will eat you alive on this hike, more so than any other hike I have ever been on. Apart from the inland attractions, make sure to explore the town’s markets and bars for a very enjoyable experience. Also, make sure to try horse show crab and mantis shrimp if you have a chance, both are delicious. Cat Ba makes for a fantastic few days if you have the time.

 

The Plain Of Jars

The Plain of Jars is an archaeological wonderland. Throughout the region are hundreds of enormous stone jars thought to be used for burials. The jars are believed to have been created during the iron age, around 2000-2500 years ago. Their origins and purpose are still unknown as there are no markings or other remains to give us any clues. There are 90 jar sites in total, each containing between 1 and 400 jars. The best place to visit the jar sites from is Phonsavan, the regional hub. Many of the jar sites are damaged from US bombing runs during the Vietnam War. Sadly many of the sites are still regarded as dangerous, due to unexploded bombs scattered throughout the region, so take care when exploring them. You will most likely require a guide to transport you between sites and to tell you which areas are safe and which are not.   These jars are an incredible piece of history and are part of a major archaeological mystery and should definitely be seen by everyone.