Consisting of a narrow coastal plain and rugged highlands in the interior, Central Vietnam
lies between Laos and Cambodia to the west and the South China Sea to the east. The region boasts a stunning coastline with many white beaches, as well as forested hills that rise up into the Annamite Mountains.
Originally the home of the various Cham peoples, it was not until a period of conquest between 1069 and 1700 that brought the coastal plain into the Vietnamese fold, culminating in the capture of Nha Trang and the fall of the Champa kingdom. However, the various tribes living in the highlands of the interior would remain independent of Vietnam until the 1800’s.
One of the many amazing caves in Central Vietnam.
Much of the fighting during the Indochina wars took place here, and the scars are easy to see in places like Hue, where a battle destroyed much of the ancient imperial architecture, leaving only 10 structures intact from the original 160. However, in recent years, extensive restoration projects have been undertaken, set to conclude in 2022.
While less ethnically diverse than the North, there are still a large number of ethnic minorities, most significantly Chamic speaking groups, including the Cham themselves. Various hill tribes also make their home in the central highlands. Like everywhere in Vietnam, the people are kind and welcoming.
The climate can be divided into two zones. The coastal plain experiences hot and dry weather from January through August, with temperatures in the mid 30’s common. The rainy season begins in September, and reaches its peak in October and November. By contrast, in the central highlands, heavy rainfall can be expected between June and October with the rest of the year fairly dry. Temperatures up in the hills are generally lower than on the coast, with its coldest point in December and January.
The charming waterfront of Hoi An.
Starting in the northern part of the region, the first clear highlight is Phong Nha national park. While the largest cave in the park, and indeed the world, Sơn Đoòng Cave, is prohibitively expensive to visit, there are a plethora of amazing caves including Thiên Đường Cave and Phong Nha Cave, featuring amazing rock formations and snaking stalactites.
Next up is Hue, the former Imperial seat of the Nguyen Dynasty. Here the star of the show is obviously the old Imperial City, that despite having been ravaged by the final stages of the Second Indochina War, is still an impressive sight, and restoration works in recent years have only reinforced this.
To many, Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage
site since 1999, is the clear standout in the entire country. Walking around the wonderfully preserved old quarter is a mesmerizing experience, transporting you into life in a 15th century port city. It’s also the most pedestrian friendly city in the country, with all traffic banned after 5pm.
The Imperial Citadel, an impressive historical location in the heart of Hue.
Finally, heading west from the coast into the highlands, you have Da Lat, an incredibly charming mountain town with a forgiving climate and amazing scenery all around. Booking one of the famous “easy riders”, local motorcycle guides, is well worth it and lets you get the inside scoop on where to go in the lush countryside surrounding the town.
Central Vietnamese cuisine distinguishes itself from its Southern and Northern cousins by being notably spicier due to the large amount of spices growing up in the highlands. The culinary centre of the region is Hue, where their royal heritage is on full display in form of elaborately prepared and presented meals, often consisting of numerous small dishes. Some signature examples of Central Vietnamese cooking are Bánh bèo, Bánh bột lọc, and Bún bò Huế.
All in all, Central Vietnam is a land of great diversity of activities and sights. Housing giant caves, beautifully forested hills, stunning beaches and hypnotizing ancient architecture, there’s something here for anyone.