Bushbaby Travel: Inspiring travel for life
Imperial City of Hue, ChrisHowey_Shutterstock

Central Vietnam, Vietnam

Vietnam’s narrow waist is dense with historical and cultural sights, as well as dramatic landscapes. Home to impressive national parks and a curvaceous coastline fringed with ravishing beaches, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in this geographic heart of the nation.

In Hue, the imperial city of the Nguyen kings, marvel at the remains of an ancient citadel, pagodas and tombs of former emperors. Pronounces “hway”, this was the national capital from 1802-1945 and history buffs will enjoy glimpsing traces of the vanished Vietnamese feudal empire, even though many of its fine buildings were destroyed during the American War. French colonial architecture lines the picturesque Perfume River, named after the flowers that fall into the water in autumn, while Khai Dihn’s tomb is covered in swirling stucco carvings. Don’t miss the seven-storey Thien Mu Pagoda with its giant turtle sculpture and 18th-century bronze bell.

Two hours north of Hue lies the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the former no-man’s-land of the Vietnam War, where desolate battlefields serves as a poignant memorial to those who fought on both sides. The extraordinary Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park contains Asia’s oldest karst mountains – as well as three colossal cave systems (including the world’s largest cave) that you can explore. Above-ground activities include forest hiking and mountain biking.

Continuing south along the coast, the road from Hue to Hoi An is one of the most beautiful, climbing in sharp bends to the dizzying Hai Van Pass, where jungle-clad mountains slope to the misty sea. This route, which recently featured on Top Gear, is best done on a guided motorbike trip. You’ll pass through Da Nang, rapidly emerging as one of Vietnam’s most vibrant cities, with its fire-breathing dragon bridge that comes alive at night.
There’s a warm welcome in Hoi An, with its quaint waterside setting and streets of 15th-century merchant houses converted into restaurants, bars and tailor shops. A World Heritage Site, this city by the sea was once throbbing with trading activities – you can still see remnants of this past by exploring the canals that slice through the city, or glancing up to the old wooden Chinese shopfronts. Fortify yourself with a coffee and Vietnamese baguette in a waterfront bar before hitting the central market for brica-brac and a sense of local life. Active clans can cycle to white sand Cua Dai Beach for seafood or take a boat from the traditional fishing village of Tra Nhieu to try net fishing.

Imperial City of Hue, ChrisHowey_Shutterstock

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