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Guide about Hoi An
Guide about Hoi An

 
Going Past o­n Bamboo Bridge, Hoi An
 
The ancient town of Hoi An, 30 km south of Danang, lies o­n the banks of the Thu Bon River, Quang Nam Province.
Hoi An, a charming ancient town of the 15th century, used to be the biggest sea port and the most important trade center of the country during the 17th and 18th centuries. Merchant ships from many countries such as Holland, Britain, Japan, France, Portugal, China, Indonesia etc. used to anchor here to purchase silk, pottery, tea, pepper and lacquerware of Vietnam.

Its well preserved communal houses, pagodas and other places of worship reflect the presence and influences of the Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Westerners who later settled in the region.

In Hoi An, cycling or walking through the ancient streets of moss-walled buildings that are still preserved nearly the same as those of the 16-17th century seaport gives visitors a strange and interesting feeling.
 
Occupied by early western traders, Hoi An was o­ne of  the major trading centre of South-East Asia during the 16th century. Nowadays, it's more occupied by tourists.

The town has a distinct Chinese atmosphere with low, tiled-roof houses and narrow streets; the original structure of some remain intact. All the houses are made of rare wood and decorated with lacquered boards and panels engraved with Chinese characters. Pillars are also carved with ornamental designs. Nearby are impressive ruins of the Sa Huynh and Champa cultures.
 
Bridge Pagoda
 

Hoian et les sites.
 
 

  
Hoi An town is small and peaceful, the kind of place where you may get stuck for a few days, whether it is intentional or not. Originally known as Faifo, this antique town is bordered on its southern side by the Thu Bon River, along which there's a number of small cafes. Despite the fact that it is now a tourist haven, the artistic atmosphere and local friendly people create an inviting environment.

Hoi An was an important port developed in 17th century and remained so for a long time. There used to be canals parallel to the streets, so merchandise could be loaded straight from the back of houses onto the boats. Hoi An’s continuance as a port lasted right up until the early years of the 20 century, when the river became silted up forcing the cargo ships to call at Da Nang instead.

In the past Hoi An has been used by the Japanese, Portuguese, Dutch, French and the large remaining Chinese community where all sorts of produce and wares were traded. Remnants of these past traders’ influences can still be seen lining the streets of Hoi An. There are nine different types of historical sites in Hoi An with an average age of 200 years. They include private houses, family chapels, community halls, communal houses, temples, pagodas, bridges, wells and tombs. Many of these buildings have been maintained close to their original form, allowing you imagination to recreate a prosperous trading town. The houses are small and colorful with wooden doors and two round "wooden house's eyes" above, window shutters and ornamental furniture. A pleasant change from the iron bars and metal grates of other towns.

  
Hoi An is full of shops selling artwork, from lifelike memorial family portraits, to stylized images of Hoi An houses and streets. Next door to the art shops are places selling souvenir statues, ceramic plates, and ‘antique’ bowls. At the market place beside the river, you can pick up almost anything you want. Tourists are often being lured into the markets to buy silk and to have quality garments tailor made. You can have anything from dresses and trousers to shirts and hats made for a cheap price.

Another noticeable quality of Hoi An is its relative silence. There are few cars and people do not feel the urge to use their horns every two seconds. The streets are filled with the hum of voices, motorbikes and the shuffling of thongs along the ground. Hoi An is small enough to get around on foot, and you will need a set of wheels if you are going to Cue Dai Beach, or on a day trip to the Marble Mountains or Da Nang.

A relaxing activity around sunset is to hire a boat from the waterside by the market place. Many of the locals will wait on the river and offer you this service throughout the day and night 

Merchant Houses
 

  
Many of the old merchant houses are lived in by the locals, but fortunately are beautifully preserved. They ca be typically described as having a narrow and lofty interior with a barrel vault ceiling. The street entrance has a shop front where the merchant used to display his goods. This is still used for his purpose n modern Hoi An with its numerous galleries and antique shops. There is also a back room where the merchant’s family, apprentices and servants lived. The entire inside of the house is made of deeply polished hardwood. Walls, columns and entrances are decorated with poems, words, symbols, and patterns. Much of the heavy ornate furniture are originals, however some pieces are replicas. Private houses in this style open to travelers include Tan Ky House that has staff that speak fluent English and French.
 
Japanese Bridge (chua Cau)

  
This bridge was built in 1953 by the Japanese, although this may be hard to pick by its name! Its base is made of stone and the rest of ironwood, jackwood and other hardwoods. The bridge’s purity has been ruined over time with Chinese and Vietnamese ornamentation. There is a pagoda built into one side of the bridge. The bridge is still used as a popular thoroughfare and is on the western end of Tran Phu street.
 
Phuc Kien Community Hall
  
This is a Chinese Community Hall, but has other uses as a temple, shrine, place of ancestor worship, and a venue for conferences. The Chinese maintain practicality in their worship but since most things in life ca not be guaranteed, superstition also plays a large part in their religious beliefs. The rear contains an altar dedicated to the three gods of health, wealth, and longevity. Three is even a goddess who will stop your baby crying for a sufficient tip. Other community and assembly halls include: the Hainan Chinese Assembly, the ChaoZhou Assembly Hall etc.

 

Assembly Hall of the Cantonese Chinese Congregation
This is beside the Japanese Bridge at 176 Tran Phu street and is a very well maintained, bright and colorful assembly hall. It was founded in 1786 and shoes must be removed before entering.
  

Da Nang 
 

  
Da Nang was the landing point of both the French and the Americans during their stints in Vietnam. When the French established a garrison in Da Nang (then called Tourane), more soldiers died from disease than the associated fighting in establishing the garrison. There is now a small cemetery dedicated to them.

During the Vietnam War, Da Nang was the home to one fifth of all US servicemen based in Vietnam. This made Da Nang on of the heaviest defended cities in South Vietnam, yet it eventually fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975 with hardly a bullet fired.

  
Da Nang marks the halfway point between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and was the first place to organize its own local communist party committee. The city is fairly featureless, and if you are coming from the tranquil setting of Lang Co, Hoi An, or anywhere for that matter, Da Nang is an extreme disappointment. It is a busy, dusty, colorless city, the fourth largest in Vietnam, and one of the largest business centers. Unless you are in Da Nang for business, chances are you will pass straight through. Da Nang does have a fascinating Cham Museum that contains an excellent collection of Cham art. However, the main reason for staying in Da Nang is in the surrounding region. China Beach, the Marble Mountains, Hoi An and My Son are all within striking distance of Da mange, though it is more pleasant to stay in Hoi An and visit these sights.

Lang Co Beach
 

  
If you were not planning on staying in Lang Co, a drive through may change your mind. The main street is lined with palm trees enticing you to go for a swim in the crystal clear waters that lap onto fine white sandy beaches. Lang Co is on a sand spit peninsula with a sparkling lagoon on one side, and a long beach lining the South China Sea on the other. This is one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam, and is yet to be developed extensively for tourists, which is probably a good thing.
 

Hai Van Pass
  
Travelling by road between Lang Co and Da Nang, you will have to get over the Hai Van Pass. This pass is created by a spur from the Truong Son Mountain Range that extends to the coast. This extremely mountainous road, with its sensational views, is the cause of many local vehicles breaking down. So if you are on one, allow yourself plenty of time. The view from the top of the pass is extraordinarily beautiful and well worth a stop to take it all in.

The train goes through tunnels at the base of the mountain and along the shoreline, so you will miss out on the spectacular views from the top. However you will see some awesome scenery nonetheless.

Cham Museum
 

  
The Cham Museum is the main attraction of Da Nang and is worth the trip, even if it is from Hoi An. This old sandstone building houses an excellent collection of Cham art and sculpture. The museum was built between 1915 and 1916, with Da Nang being chosen due to its proximity to the themes of Cham architecture, and was enlarged in 1936 as the collection of works increased. There are now over 300 pieces of sculpture and they are all original pieces of work. The subjects of the sculpture range through a vast ten rooms of the museum bears the name of the district in which the relic were found.
 
China Beach
  
China Beach extends north and south of the Marble Mountains and was made famous by the war and subsequent TV series. China Beach is within cycling distance of Da Nang and it was this close proximity that led to it being used as an R&R destination for American soldiers during the war. It is a long beach that stretches all the way down to Cua Dai beach at Hoi An, though you will get a larger surf at China beach. China beach actually hosted Vietnam’s first International Surfing Competition in 1992. There is some controversy as to whether this was the real China Beach or if it was the beach called My Khe, further to the north
 
My Khe Beach
  
My Khe is the beach directly east of Da Nang on the South China Sea. By road it is about 6 km from the centre of town to the ocean, by crossing the Han River via the Nguyen Van Troi Bridge. Turn left after the river crossing onto the main road, then a right after a couple of kilometers, and follow this street until you hit the water. My Khe Beach and China Beach are only 65 km apart and they are connected by the same stretch of coastline and uninterrupted sand. This proximity to each other makes it easy to understand to confusion towards the real ‘China Beach’, as it is essentially the same beach. 
 
Marble Mountains
 

  
The Marble Mountains are made up of five limestone outcrops in isolation from the surrounding plains, each riddled with caves and grottoes, with some made into pagodas and shrines. Each mountain represents one of the five elements of the universe, being water, wood, fire, metal and earth. The main mount, representing water, has a path to the top with two entrances open to tourists. You can also enter from the second entrance at the reverse side, farther down the road, which is a much less strenuous climb. The top offers spectacular views of Da Nang and the surrounding Marble Mountains. A better vantage point is reached through a small hole at the top of one of the caves, with the views including China Beach and Cham island.

As you start climbing the stairs, you will be accosted by young children offering to guide you or sell you stone carvings. The guides can be quite good value, as for payment they often just want you to buy a small stone carving, a great pressie for the folks back home. Come of the larger caves have been transformed for religious purposes, and Buddha statues are guilt within them along with all the associated guardians. Some of these caves are quite eerie with the pungent smell in incense sitting in the air and the walls all covered in bullet marks from small arms fighting during the Vietnam War.

During the Vietnam war there was some violent fighting which went on in cave to cave battles. In Huyen Khong cave, one of the large holes in the ceiling was caused y a bomb. Within this cave there are a number of shrines, temple guards and Buddha statues, and there are still stalactites on the ceiling. Off to the side of the cave there are two small stalactites that are believed to represent breasts, one is dripping whilst the other is dry. According to legend, when Emperor Tu Duc entered and touched one of the stalactites, it stopped dropping and never has since. At the base of Marble Mountains there are a large number of stone carving shops reminiscent of Mahalliburipuram, India, as all you can hear is the endless chipping away of stone. All these stores are very keen to sell you a three foot high temple do 
My Son Sanctuary 
  
My Son has what is arguably the best collection of Cham art and architecture in its natural setting in Vietnam. It is somewhat of an arduous journey to get out there, but is well worth the effort. If you are not willing to risk life and limb to visit Angkor, at least My Son will give you a little taste of what it must be like. Though some of the monuments were destroyed by the war or thieves, but what remains is still considerable. Many of the structures are overgrown with dense vegetation but you can get inside some of them. 
Cua Dai beach 
 

  
The beach is the closest to Hoi An, very beautiful and is well worth a visit to cool off when the heats starts to get to you. The only eyesore are the bizarre changing huts and bungalows. It is an incredibly long beach with loads of room to wander off for a bit of personal space, which is so difficult to find in Vietnam. If you spend a day at the beach and elect to take a deckchair, you will be asked to buy either a baguette, some lovely pineapple or a drink, otherwise you will have to pay for the seat. All these prices are inflated, but the pineapple in particular is delicious.
 
 
 
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
 
From 1954 until the defeat of the Americans in 1975, Ben Hai river marked the division of Vietnam. 5km either side of the river was declared a DMZ - a stark contrast to what really took place in this region. In fact, the surrounding region experienced some of the heaviest fighting during the Vietnam War. Some areas, such as Vinh Moc were termed Free Fire Zones, allowing a virtual free for all without fear of future repercussions and everything was designated a target. As a result of this heavy fighting, there is still heaps live ordnance lying around. There have been some casualties as unexploded bombs blow up when farmers are working on their lands nearby or children run up in a play. Khe Sanh, in particular, was immortalized during and after the conflict. Now when you catch the train or bus from anywhere South of Dong Hoi to the DMZ, bomb damage and craters are still evident in paddies, beside the railway tracks and beside the roads and bridges. As you get closer to Dong Ha you will notice huge eucalyptus groves, themselves a legacy of the war. These areas were completely devastated either by relentless shelling or defoliation during the war and were eventually replanted with eucalyptus trees, chosen for their durability and speedy maturity.
 
Dong Hoi - Phong Nha
 
 
Dong Hoi is the closest town from where you can visit the impressive Phong Nha Cave. Although there is little else to see in the area, there are some nice beaches that can be visited on the other side of the river.
The main attraction of Dong Hoi is a trip to the Phong Nha Cave. This spectacular cave was used by the Northern Vietnamese as a field hospital during the war and it has the scars to prove it. The front face is pockmarked from attempts to lob bombs into the entrance by US helicopters, in the hope of collapsing the entrance. Fortunately their attempts were all unsuccessful as the cave makes for a fascinating visit.
 
Phong Nha cave is explored mainly by boat, though there are a couple of raised areas where your guide will walk you around and explain the various points of interest. The cave was not officially surveyed until 1990, however, the cave walls show evidence of it being a popular place to visit for quite some time.
The tour consists of a boat trip to the cave entrance taking around 45 minutes, then an hour drifting through the cave guided by a couple of gas lanterns. It is an eerie feeling as all you can hear is the gas lanterns hissing away, and the water dripping as you slowly drift from chamber to chamber.
The cave is over 7km long but the tour only visits the first 800m or so. There have been some enterprising travelers who have managed to bargain a few more hundred meters for the guide, and it is apparently well worth the expense

 
Dong Ha
 
At first glance Dong Ha, the chief town of Quang Tri Province, appears to be little more than another drab roadside town, and during the rainy season it could almost be mistaken for the most miserable place on earth. However, once you get off the main road and go wandering it is quite enchanting, and you can return very quickly to the attractive life of rural Vietnam. Dong ha is the most central town to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the tunnels of Vinh Moc, and because of this, during the Vietnam War the UIS built many military bases around the town.

 

Skeleton of a church

In between Hue and Dong Ha is a dilapidated Catholic Church that was the site of a fierce and bloody battle between American troops and the Viet Cong. The Americans had sought refugee within the church walls, but this was to no avail. The Church has been left standing in its bullet ridden state as a reminder of the war, and to this day retains an eerie feeling within the sanctuary

 

Truong Son National Cemetery
 
The cemetery is situated 17 km south of the Ben Hai River and is so large it can only be described as impressive. Not so impressive is the deaths that created a need of such a place. The endless rows of white tombstones are a memorial to the tens of thousands of NVA (Northern Vietnam Army) soldiers and other military personnel killed in and around the Truong Son Mountains

Vinh Moc tunnels

 

The Vinh Moc tunnels are situated 19 km north of the Ben Hai river. Faced with incessant bombing by US and ARVN forces, in what was termed a free fire zone, the villagers at Vinh Moc were faced with three options. One was to leave their homes and livelihood, two was to stay in their homes and probably be killed, or three was to start digging. They took the third option and embarked on an excavation project, taking 18 months to complete, that would eventually relocate the entire village underground. Similar tunnels were attempted at nearby villages, who were also in the free fire zone, however they were not of the same standard. At Vinh Quang, as a result of bombing by US forces, the tunnels collapsed, killing all inside. The US forces were never able to replicated their efforts at Vinh Moc with only one of the most feared drilling bombs hitting the target without exploding. These bombs drill into the earth until they hit a pocket of air making them explode. The resourceful villagers used the hole created by the bomb as an air vent.

Unlike the tunnels at Cu Chi that were made for fighting in, these tunnels were designed to be lived in. This, the tunnels are considerably larger, though a foreigner will still find some of the corners quite tight and the roof low in places. There are 3 levels of tunnels with the lowest going to a depth of 30m, 12 entrances with 7 opening up to the ocean, and in total the tunnels cover over 2 square km. The living quarters often consisted of a family having to squeeze into a chamber with dimensions around two by one and a half meters dug out form the main corridor. Some of the chambers are reasonably spacious such as the meeting widens slightly allowing a considerable number of people to congregate to hold meetings or listen to concerts. During the war time, most of the children, women and elderly never saw daylight, only rarely being allowed to leave the tunnels under the cover of night and 17 children were born underground.

The tunnels you will be taken through have been partially restored and reinforced so do not worry about them collapsing, though spare a thought for those who sat in these tunnels as the bombs rained down. It was the very claylike consistency of the soil in the area of Vinh Moc which allowed these tunnels to be made, so do not try it at home. In periods of heavy rain, the lower tunnels may be flooded with the higher tunnels filling with puddles and the stairs getting slippery. Make sure you take a torch with you.

Next to the tunnels is a museum with an emotional display of memorabilia. Take special note of the before and after photos of Vinh Moc and the stories about the Suicide Squads. These volunteers were responsible for ferrying supplies out to the offshore Con Co islands whilst under the constant risk of being spotted and killed by US helicopters specially stationed to sever those supply lines.

 
 
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