Da Nang, Vietnam
The third largest city in Vietnam, Da Nang is best known, from a historic standpoint, as the site of a major U.S. base during the Vietnam War — or the American War, as it's known locally. Rebuilding continues to this day, and the city has developed into a commerce center. What's more interesting to visitors is that it’s the jumping-off point for two of the loveliest towns in Vietnam: Hoi An and Hue.
What We Love
The Imperial Cuisine of Hue: The former imperial capital of Vietnam, Hue has many restaurants that serve the traditional food of the region, which is known for its creativity and bold flavors. Nineteenth century emperor Tu Duc is said to have demanded a different dish every day and to have a taste for spice, the likes of which you won’t find in Vietnamese restaurants back home.
The Emperors’ Tombs: Expect way more than a cemetery. The Nguyen emperors who ruled here from 1802 to 1945 are buried in artful “tombs” all around Hue. They’re more like temple complexes, with central mausoleums surrounded by palaces, pavilions, gardens, walls, and courtyards.
Best Known For
The Old City of Hoi An: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic center is a beguiling district that looks largely unchanged since the 19th century, when it was a hub of trade with China and Japan. Now the colonial row houses sell souvenirs, but their architecture and lantern-lit facades are as charming as ever.
The Citadel: In the center of Hue lies this rambling assemblage of some 150 palaces, pavilions, temples, gardens, ponds, gates, and halls. Its dazzling Imperial City is reminiscent of the more austere dynastic capital at Beijing.
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Who It's Best For
Savvy Shoppers: Hoi An’s tailoring rivals anything in Southeast Asia, and the best shops, such as Yaly, can turn out impeccable pieces overnight, if not in a matter of hours, for a fraction of what you’d spend in the States. Bring a photo of what you have in mind, or browse through their many catalogs for inspiration.
History Buffs: The war museums are elsewhere, but central Vietnam is the place to explore the much-further past — from the 4th- to 13th-century Hindu temples at My Son to the relics of imperial culture.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Hoi An is Hardly Undiscovered: Expect to find lots of backpackers and the businesses that cater to them, as well as aggressive souvenir sellers.
Motorbike Traffic Can Be Nuts: Drivers largely ignore stop signs, so there’s never really a “walk” sign at intersections. You just have to wade through. Make eye contact if possible, and move predictably.
Ann Abel is a Brooklyn-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Departures.