Discovering Central Vietnam’s hidden charms

Frans Surdiasis, The Jakarta Post, Da Nang, Vietnam

Take the many beautiful sites of Central Vietnam. Mix that with tradition and culture. Then add some astonishing histories.

Now you have a world-class itinerary for tourists to make Da Nang and Central Vietnam a major tourist destination in Southeast Asia. The region has everything to attract tourists: the beauty of nature, charm, culture, tradition and history. These important ingredients combine to create great holidays for visitors.

In Da Nang, Hue and Hoi An, tourists not only see a long, white sandy beach with clear crystal water, but can also travel deep into the history of the nation. Central Vietnam is the home of three world heritage sites: the ancient town of Hoi An, the ancient capital of Hue, and the holy site of My Son.

One of the biggest attractions is a 30-kilometer coastline, famous for many beautiful beaches stretching from the north to the south such as My Khe, Thanh Binh, Tien Sa, Son Tra and the most popular, Non Nuoc Beach, also known as South China Beach. Forbes magazine in 2005 labeled it one of the most beautiful and attractive beaches on the planet.

Non Nuoc Beach stretches 5 kilometers along the shore at the foot of the Marble Mountains, with many five-star hotels built in Non Nuoc. For surfing lovers, Non Nuoc Beach could be an alternative to Bali or Hawaii.

For those who love digging into history, Hue, about 100 kilometers to the north of Da Nang, is a must. Hue was an imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, which governed the southern part of Vietnam between 1802 and 1945.

The city is well-known for its monuments and architecture, with the Imperial City as its most attractive icon. Hue was the national capital until 1945, ending when a new government was established in Hanoi.

During the Vietnam War, the Imperial City suffered huge damage, with most of its buildings destroyed. The city was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, with its remaining buildings being restored and preserved.

During the past few years, most of the destroyed buildings have been reconstructed through the cooperation of the Vietnamese government and UNESCO.

The restoration of the Imperial City reflects how the Vietnamese government has succeeded in dealing with the past and has stayed focused on the future to become one of the emerging economies in Asia.

Another must-see place in Central Vietnam is Hoi An, an ancient town located 30 kilometers south of Da Nang. It is a cozy town with a population of no more than 90,000. Hoi An is situated on the northern bank of the Thu Bon River. The streets running along the river’s edge are intersected by streets and alleys, and there are numerous shops, houses, pagodas and temples.

The architecture of Hoi An, which is almost entirely made of wood, combines traditional Vietnamese designs and techniques with styles from China and Japan, whose people settled there to trade and built houses and community centers to their own designs. From the 16th to the 18th century, Hoi An was the most important trading center in Vietnam.

This old city received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999 for its history and unique architecture. UNESCO described Hoi An as a special example of a traditional trading port in Southeast Asia that has been completely and assiduously preserved.

Legacy: The Imperial City in Hue used to be the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

It is the only town in Vietnam that has survived intact in this way, with a majority of the buildings in the traditional architectural style of the 19th and 20th centuries.

As a small town, visitors just need a few hours to stroll around. Cars are banned on the streets, and they are full of boutiques, restaurants, galleries, tailors and souvenir stores. There is a fine wooden bridge called the Japanese Covered Bridge that dates to at least the early 18th century. The local name for the bridge is Lai Vien Kieu, which means “Pagoda in Japan”. The bridge is a landmark in Hoi An that connects the two sides of the town.

Hoi An is also renowned for its handmade lanterns, the craft a very old surviving tradition. Since 1998, residents have held a lantern festival every month, part of their effort to revive ancient traditions and culture.

Through the lantern tradition, both local residents and tourists can experience not just the beauty of the old town, but also the spirit to survive all the times to come. [Article link]