Leaving Hue we headed south to the region made famous in the Vietnam/American war as the place for American soldier’s R&R– China Beach. The beach itself stretches for miles down the central coast of Vietnam and I can see why the GI’s loved it as a place for taking it easy. We visited the two biggest towns of Da Nang and Hoi An over a period of a week and while neither of us are real beach bunnies we thoroughly enjoyed our time here.
Da Nang is a big commercial city with the main part of the town across a river from the beach side. We stayed just back from the beach and again hired a scooter to go and check out the area. The beach itself is gorgeous white sand, stunning blue water and being in a bay it is a calm safe place to swim. We ventured out onto the northern headland and while the views were awesome the roads themselves were super steep. At one point we had to give up and turn back as the poor old scooter just couldn’t make it with 2 of us on board.
I think the highlight for us in Da Nang was a place called Murphy’s Steakhouse. It was 3 doors down from our hotel and the food (while not cheap by Vietnamese standards – $15/main) was amaaaazing! The guy who runs it is an ex-pat British Aussie who has only been there for 7 months but has he ever nailed the hospitality thing. He was a great host and we ate here every night we were in Da Nang, enjoying not only the awesome food (imagine a perfectly cooked fall off the bone lamb shank when you haven’t seen one for 7 months) but also great company. Chris the owner had so many insights into Vietnam and so many stories. I think it would have to be some of the best nights we have had in ages and he is another one of those people that we have met that we will try to catch up with again at some time in the future. Travelling can often be a case of meeting people and then they disappear but sometimes we are lucky enough to meet some people that are just terrific and we try to keep in touch with these special folks. It is a real treasure find when you do meet someone like that.
So, from Da Nang we went an hour south to Hoi An and found a completely different town. This place has a historical centre that is heritage listed and as such the buildings are all pretty well preserved externally. Where originally it was a bustling commercial hub for the area with the waterways being the inroads to the warehouses and retailers, silting of the river moved the shipping to Da Nang and Hoi An seemed to stop in history right where it was. After the war years when tourism returned to Vietnam and with the heritage listing it has become a mega town of tourists, tailors and restaurants.
The architecture is really lovely with many of the really old homes preserved for tourists to visit (much to the upset of some of the families still trying to live in them). There were several old Chinese Assembly halls, each one was slightly different to reflect the different geougraphical regions of Chinese merchants that gathered for meetings. Now many of these assembly halls have temples where the smoke from hundreds of incense wafts around bizarre dragon statues. They certainly were impressive to visit though.
A highlight of Hoi An was definitely the food. Where in the north we found the food to be of a certain style, a lot more soup and noodle dishes, in Hoi An as it is literally slap bang at the half way mark there was food from north, south and regionally specific. And it was all good!!!! There were so many restaurants that we were literally spoilt for choice.
As is typical for us, with no planning at all we managed to arrive into Hoi An on the one night of the month that they hold a big festival – the full moon lantern festival. It seems that lighting a candle and sending it down the canal is good luck and the tourists and locals alike all get into the action. Unfortunately it just became a bit of a money grab with sellers pushing lit candles into our faces every second step and the crowd crush was quite astonishing however it was definitely something to see. Of course the next night was much the same and the night after that as well (when you are onto a good thing stick to it??) but the crowds were less and we were glad to have been able to see the big night.
Again the beach here was spectacular (the southern end of China Beach) and I actually got it together enough to go for a swim. I would have to say that other than beaches in the north of Western Australia I have not ever been to a beach as nice. The water was crystal clear, no waves, not too many touts, drinks available, beach chairs and coconut huts to lounge and the warmest water you could ever wish to find. It was truly divine and I would recommend it to anyone!
So I would have to say that the region of central Vietnam around China Beach was absolutely fantastic and while I would love to be able to show you some amazing photos of the area it seems that my photo mojo was on the wane that week and looking over my shots there really wasn’t anything to write home about. I have included some shots to give you a bit of an idea but I am not sure that I have done justice. Ah well, that’s life and I am sure that the camera and I will become friends again soon 🙂
‘Everyone’ trying to get their lanterns floated down the canal. Many people hire a boat to get out to the middle of the flow instead of placing the candle at the edge.
Typical old Hoi An.
These are not the lanterns that are floated down the river (smaller and made of candles and cardboard) but they are the ones that every shops tries to sell to tourists to take home. Beautiful when they are all lit together.
These ladies brought this entire restaurant (and that is what this is) on their shoulders in 2 baskets supported with a bamboo pole. It is amazing to watch them move through the crowd and to set up a feast.
Fishing village nestled in a cove.
Looking back across the bay form the beach at Hoi An. Further up the beach on the right of shot is where the town of Da Nang lies on famous China Beach.