Wafer-thin Vietnam is at its skinniest in the long center, home to Vietnam’s best-known beaches (Nha Trang’s commercialized bay, the more au natural beaches near Hoi An and Danang). Visitors can fly, train or bus hop-scotch style, up or down the coast, with the best multi-day stops at the Imperial capital of Hue and Chinese port town Hoi An.

Marble Mountain Cave PagodaChapters

BACH MA NATIONAL PARK Scary-high falls and jungle trails, between Hue & Hoi An
DALAT Hill town with villa hotels, hiking trails & kitsch
DANANG Often skipped port town with China Beach & fun Marble Mountains
HOI AN Popular old Chinese trading town with tailors and a great beach
HUE Former Vietnam capital, with royal tombs and superb Hue-style food
NHA TRANG Vietnam’s main beach resort


Central Vietnam mapIf you have one week, give a couple days each to Hue, Hoi An and Nha Trang. If beaches mean a bit less for you, skip Nha Trang and add a day at Bach Ma National Park located mid way between Hue and Hoi An.

If you have more time, go in to Dalat to cool off — and consider biking downhill to Nha Trang in the same time it takes by bus.

If you want to get way off the beaten track, you can do it by simple decisions while on the beaten track: take a personalized DMZ tour near Hue with South Vietnamese vets, or arrange your own trip to My Lai to see the ‘American War’s’ most sobering sight. Or you can linger a day or two in Danang, a great town so few give much attention to.

My Favorites

Hue’s food. You can get pretty good pho (beef noodle soup) outside Vietnam, but even Saigon or Hanoi lacks much of the bite-sized Hue dishes that were created for kings in the 19th century. The best is served from hole-in-the-walls here.

DMZ Tours with South Vietnamese Vets. Hue’s Stop & Go or Dong Ha’s DMZ CafĂ© are vet-run agencies offering personalized, authoratative close-up looks at sites around the most-militarized area of the American War. I’m not military obsessed but enjoyed the hop-on-the-motorbike trips.

Biking from Dalat to Nha Trang. Local guides offer top gear and guides and make the downhill trip in the same time as the bus.

Luxury hotel spurges. Vietnam’s central strip has always been the get-away part of Vietnam, and several hotels stand out as my favorites nation-wide: Hue’s La Residence, Dalat’s Evason Ana Mandara Villas Resort (made from 1920s French homes), Hoi An’s Victoria or (if you have Mick Jagger money) Nam Hai.

Bach Ma stop-off. Everyone goes by bus between Hoi An and Hue, but it’s so worth splurging on a $75 taxi ride that allows you to take the Hai Van Pass (north of Danang) and this stunning national park, built up and down jungled mountains with hikes and vertigo-inducing waterfalls.