Spending a week in Central Vietnam is easier than you might think. While many people travel Vietnam from the North to the South, you can escape the comparative crowds and make your holiday in central Vietnam. With the historic Hue, out-of-this-world Phong Nha, modern Danang, and quintessential Hoi An, here’s how you can spend one week around the region.
Central Vietnam Itinerary 1 Week
Day 1: Arrival Danang and enjoy the seafood
Danang is the third largest city in Vietnam, and if you are coming from Southeast Asia, direct flights are available! Whenever you arrive, one thing to do on your first day in Danang is to eat some delicious seafood for cheap!
In Danang’s seafood restaurant, you can find the prices on a huge board next to all the seafood themselves. You are unlikely to find English translation, but you can enlist the help of a staff to pick out your desired seafood. The most highly recommended item is their seafood pot, although on my visit we got excited and end up getting full on pawns and clams.
Recommend restaurant: Quan B Man B Seafood
Address: Lo 13 Durong Hoang Sa – Danang
P.S. if you have time, the beaches there are practically empty during the day!
Day 2: Marble Mountain and sightsee around Danang before heading to Hue
Aside from seafood and the beach, the most famous sight in Danang is the Marble Mountain. The name derives from the five marble mountains that rose high along the flat coastline, and each renamed after the five elements: earth, water, metal, wood, and wind. They are home to some Buddhist and Hindu temples and grottoes, and you can hike up the Water Mountain to get visit the religious sites and get a panoramic view.
If you are looking for garden decorations or souvenirs, the marble from the mountains is used for making statue and carving, too.
Danang is also famous for street food, too. And their prices are so affordable that it’s insane. You can have fish cake noodles for as little as 1.75 USD, so grab a bit before taking a two-hour journey to Hue. If you want to spend more time in Danang, here’s a 3 days itinerary.
Hue is the capital of the last reigning dynasty in Vietnam: the Nguyen. With a few hours left before sunset, set off to Thien Mu Pagoda. It’s best to ask your hotel to get you a taxi driver that would take you there and back because it’s not on a popular road or near the center. Thien Mu Pagoda was built by the Nguyen before they were even emperors and is the tallest religious building in Vietnam. Nearby is the beautiful yet abandoned Temple of Literature, which is worth visiting for photo opportunities if time permits.
Hue is famous for its spicy beef noodles which you can find anywhere – although as someone who can’t handle hot flavour, I didn’t find it that spicy. It’s a must try for your dinner!
Day 3: Hue to Phong Nha, Phong Nha Cave
From Hue it’s a six hour’s journey to Phong Nha, and my advice would be to get a private car or join a bus tour that would stop at interesting sights along the way as you go up. This area was the DMZ – the de-militarization zone – during the Vietnam War, and the history was definitely etched deep. However, the main attraction to Phong Nha is its caves.
Phong Nha is home to some of the largest karst caves in the world, and some have been developed to be easily accessible to tourists. For example, Phong Nha Cave is the most popular one, and you can join a boat along the underground river that would take you inside the cave to admire the surreal stalactites and stalagmites.
Day 4: Dark Cave and Paradise Cave
Unless you can drive, otherwise it’s advisable to join a tour that would take you to the Dark Cave and the Paradise Cave, since both are in the countryside. For more information, you can find a guide to visiting Phong Nha National Park here. But you can easily find the best deals on the ground. The Paradise Cave is true to its name, a surreal underground world that takes your breath away. Unlike Phong Nha Cave, Paradise Cave is accessed through staircase down and wooden walkways. There are other more adventurous tours that involve kayaking, as well as other caves in Phong Nha that’s worth visiting.
The next destination is the Dark Cave. Unlike the other two, it is an active option that involves ziplining, swimming and walking through small tunnels to get to a dark, muddy cave. It’s a fun experience, so prepare to wear your swimsuits although be warned that the mud does stain. The Dark Cave tour ends with kayaking to its watersports center, where you can use its facilities until the bus goes back.
Day 5: transfer back to Hue and visit the Citadel and tombs
Take the morning bus back to Hue, it’s time to discover its royal past. The Citadel is dubbed as the smaller version of the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. Despite being damaged during the Vietnam War, there are still enough to see. It was built in the 19th century after the Nguyen had come to powers, with its own moat and beauty. There really are so many cool things to do in Hue.
After seeing the royal residence, it’s time to visit the tombs of emperor passed. The most famous three are the classically Chinese-styled Minh Mang Tomb, the western-mix-Chinese style Dong Khanh Tomb and the tomb where a king had lived: Tu Duc Tomb. For more information on visiting Hue if you have time to spare, check the post here.
Tip: you can buy a combination ticket for all 4 attractions!
Day 6: Hue to Hoi An
Make your way down from Hue to Hoi An via the beautiful Hai Van Pass, a scenic coastal road that’s 21km long that meandered on the mountain. The journey takes about three hours and once you’ve checked in at your hotel, it’s worth reining in the urge to see the old town and visit the Cam Thanh region where the water coconut forest it. They are famous for the round bamboo raft that the locals use to get around, and it’s a fascinating and fun experience to see the waterways onboard one of them.
As for dinner, there are no ends of amazing options in Hoi An, but my favourite restaurant there is the Rice Drum. They have all the Hoi An specialties, amazing décor and affordable prices.
Address: 75 Nguyen Thai Hoc Minh An, tp Hoi An
Day 7: Hoi An
The last day should be spend exploring Hoi An’s Old Town. The beauty of the 17th century port town was preserved in its entirety, with a charming blend of European and Asian architecture style. While the entire Old Town is a work of art, the most notable site is the Japanese Bridge. If the weather gets too hot, the Reaching Out Tea House is a good place to sit and chill.
Address: 131 Trần Phú, Sơn Phong, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
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I have been to Vietnam but only Hanoi, I and heading there in May but for three weeks this time ! Do you recommend the Sand Dunes ?
I’d suggest you start with Hue and work your way down the coast to Da Nang and Hoi An. Da Nang is located between Hue and Hoi An, so if you start there, you’ll have to travel twice the distance.
Travelling to central Vietnam with a young family of 3 kids ages 7-12 in June/July 2019 should we base ourselves in one place or start at one end and work our way down. We will have about 10 days in Vietnam? Daniel