I’m sure we’ve all heard of magnificent Halong Bay and hustling Hanoi in Northern Vietnam or the enchanting Mekong Delta and colonial Saigon also known as Ho Chi Minh City in the South. But what about Central Vietnam? As Nicole and I were sure it had a lot to offer, we decided to visit this part of Vietnam and ignore the country’s most famous sights.
We chose to spend some time in Danang, particularly visiting the Hai Van Pass, travel to the Phong Nha Khe Bang National Park and wrap up our time in Vietnam with a stay in Hoi An.
Our first stop in Vietnam was Danang. The city in itself is rather unspectacular. The reason we decided to stay in Danang was we were planning to explore the Hai Van Pass, a meteorological divide between Northern and Southern Vietnam. The best way to do this is on motorcycles or scooters. Please don’t think you can just hop on a scooter and drive the Hai Van Pass if you haven’t ever driven a scooter before – it is a windy road with a bunch of obstacles. The highest peak is only accessible if you really know how to drive a motorbike, it takes you off the beaten path. The views from up there are one of a kind though!
Also, don’t underestimate the beaches that surround the Hai Van Pass. Coming back from a day on a motorbike, being all dusty and dirty, dipping into the Vietnamese sea at night is the best feeling one can imagine! A little birdie told me that you can even see glowing plankton if you’re lucky…!
Our next stop was the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Definitely a hidden gem in Vietnam! I would definitely recommend you stay at the Pepperhouse Homestay. I have never met people as kind and generous as Diem and her family.
Did you know that the largest cave in the world is located in Phong Nha Ke Bang? It is so huge that you can fit two Airbus A380 inside. Unfortunately we were not able to visit this cave as you currently have to pay $3.000 to get inside. Instead we visited the Paradise Cave which to me was just as jaw-dropping.
Also, definitely do one of those adventure tours with zip-lining, kayaking, mud walking and swimming inside the caves. That’s what we did and it’s definitely a one of a kind experience to swim in a pitch dark cave with bats and eels everywhere around you.
Following our stay at the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park our original plan was to take an overnight train to Ho Chi Minh City. Luckily we listened to Karl, one of Diem’s family’s friends who told us we simply could not miss out on Hoi An, Vietnam’s food and garment capital. I am so happy we followed his advice! Hoi An is superb in so many ways. The atmosphere is laid back, everyone walks or bikes around the city and as it is named “the city of lanterns”, the city at night is just incredible. After the adventurous few days we had spent before, Hoi An was a welcome change with its numerous shops, restaurants and cafes that sell everything from organic smoothies, the truly delicious Vietnamese coffee to authentic local cuisine. I would definitely recommend to do a cooking class in Hoi An! Due to time constraints we weren’t able to do it but if I’ll ever be back in Hoi An, that’s on my bucket list.