Towards the end of the year 2008, I made a trip with golfing enthusiast friends to check out what was available for golfing, in the Vietnam central coast area straddling the South China sea on one side and the Danang river inland. Danang city came to mind and we headed out there on a three hour flight from Singapore. Danang is famous for China Beach, a popular hang out place for American GI's during the Vietnam war and the location for an evacuation hospital made famous by the TV series that was aired in the United States in the 1980's called, what else, "China Beach". Danang was also a major Air Force base during the war, for US Aircraft based in Vietnam.
(Danang city area)
We arrived quite late at night. Danang is a small town and late night food options (or even entertainment options) are quite limited. We looked around for places that had been recommended by forums on the net, only to be disappointed that these were really non existent. Driving by a typical Vietnamese noodle soup shop, we decided that our real Vietnamese experience should start with a noodle soup dinner at a local shop. Ordering food was a challenge since no one spoke English there and none of us knew a word of Vietnamese. Payment was in US Dollars, change given in Dong-their currency. They convert at fair market value. Anyway, either we were really hungry by the time we used sign language and finger pointing to order food and it being past midnight, or the soup was really good, I don't know, but we gobbled it up hot and scalding before continuing on to our lovely hotel, The Furama Beach Resort.
(China Beach early morning)
(Golf course near the driving range)
The next morning we were up early, I was at least, and quick breakfast later, got a chance to wander around beach side taking in the early morning sun and cool breeze. I imagined Robin Williams shouting "Gooood moooorning Vietnaaaaam" like he did in the movie of the same name, except that it was real real quiet.The only sound you hear on the video is that of the crashing waves. The weather was nice, cool but not nippy and definitely not humid like Singapore was when we left. Here is a video of the South China Sea, the beach, pool area and the hotel Furama where I stayed:
Our first stop was to check out the golf course, signature one at that and went around the first nine, the back nine being under development, we only got a tour of that, on their golf buggy. Leaving the golf course, we went into Danang town to have some lunch and visit the Cham museum.
(Cham Museum with Shiva Linga and Goddess Uma below-click on pictures to enlarge)
With Hanoi in the North and capital of the country and with Ho Chi Minh in the South (formerly Saigon), Danang comes in as the fourth largest city in Vietnam. With less than 800,000 population and fairly spread out, it appears as a well planned but old and quiet city. The lanes and bye lanes reminded me of old Bangkok. Some similarities apart, this is a different town in many ways.
(Entrance to Cham museum)
I found the Cham museum to be particularly interesting because it contains archaeological artifacts and relics of an era when Vietnam was ruled by the Chams, a Hindu Kingdom! It boggles the mind that the concepts of Hinduism traveled this far in it's purest form thousands of years ago, as did Buddhism that followed it. The museum contains what was removed from dilapidated temple complexes found during the various expeditions in the Vietnam jungles. Some pictures of the sculptures housed in the museum is displayed here.
(Lord Ganesh above)
Having hired a car, it was a piece of cake traveling around except that our driver was excruciatingly slow and almost everyone except those on pedal driven cycles passing us left and right. When challenged, the guy mentioned that he stuck to the speed limit! The ride to Hoi An took us nearly 45 minutes, on country roads. Hoi An is 30 Kilometers south of Danang. Now, Hoi An is where most travelers end up. Backpackers are aplenty. Decent hotels with cheap fare and even cheaper beer can be found here lined up along the riverside. One can bump into really ancient looking people in row boats offering rides up and down the river, wearing that quintessentially native conical hats to ward off the sharp sun.
(Hoi An street walk route)
One must walk around the UNESCO protected city center where it is pedestrian only and streets contain boutique shops selling art or tailor made suits or cafe's and so on, interspersed with a Buddhist temples. I know many in Singapore who pick up paintings from here real cheap. Vietnamese art isn't all cheap by the way. A few artists here from this town have made it big on the World stage and command good value for their works. It is a real treat to walk around old Hoi An and to stop by a local coffee shop to sip the famous strong Vietnamese Coffee while watching the sun go down on the far end of the river. Another popular site is an old Japanese covered bridge built across one of the arms of the river and a place most visitors love to take pictures of themselves.
It was back to Danang for the night, and like I said before, we scouted around for some "lively" places where one could enjoy the night life and it just wasn't anything close to lively. I'd rather say that come nightfall and Danang just goes to sleep. There are a few beach side cafe's lit up with neon lights like throw backs from another era and these are good places to tuck into fresh seafood. Guess what, that's exactly what we did, quaffing down the local brew along with steaming hot seafood. We left the next day after lunch time, having had a splash at the local spa at the hotel that I would rate first class in terms of facilities and three star when it came to service.
Before traveling to Vietnam, check the entry requirements, most countries except ASEAN nationals need visas prior to arrival in Vietnam. Ports of entry are the airports of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Danang. Ho Chi Minh is brand-spanking-new and has beautiful terminals. Vegetarians beware, if you are the finicky kind, Vietnam can be a real challenge. Bread and milk is available if one can just live off that! Climate varies, check before you travel. New golf sites are coming up, even signature ones, so if you are a golfing enthusiast, keep an eye open for news from that part of the World. Vietnam is a long country North to South and plenty to see and do. Some parts are OK communications wise and in most parts one would have to do with sign language and pointing at things. But its still great fun.