Vietnam is a fascinating country that continues to get busier by the year as more and more travelers become intrigued and visit this country on the move. With a coastline of more than 3,000km, a varied landscape, and incredible food, it’s hot on many levels. Two destinations in the middle of the country, Hoi An and Hue are mainstays of a full Vietnam travel experience and have been famous for decades. Scott recently visited and today we’ll dive into what a trip to these neighboring cities has to offer and what you can expect on this week’s episode: Exploring Hoi An and Hue, Vietnam.

Scott & Trevor’s experiences in Hoi An and Hue:

Scott: I first went to Hue and Hoi An in 1996 I think as part of of Hanoi to HCMC trip with a friend. Sleepy and quiet at that time. I then went to Hoi An in 2019 for staff training that I was running and was shocked at how many people were about but it still seemed semi-charming. I was just there with my Dad in April 2023 and we’ll get into what it’s like now.

Scott and Don Coates in Hoi An

Trevor: I know a bit about Hue, as it’s a historical capital that was heavily damaged during the war with the United States. I hear it’s pretty nice but that most of the buildings were destroyed. Unless, I guess they’ve restored the buildings, I don’t know why people would travel there now, so I’m looking forward to your travel tale. The only other thing I know is that it’s in the center of the country, which is one of the main reasons it was so heavily bombed and probably why many people stop there. Kind of a half-way point north to south.

I’ve also heard of Hoi An but have absolutely no idea why. I don’t know what’s there so I had a look at a map. It’s just outside Da Nang, which my parents enjoyed. It’s on the coast about 3 hours south of Hue, so I assume people visit the three destinations together while passing through the center of the country. I checked a surf site and it says the best month to surf is October when it’s 36% surfable (60% blown out and 4% too small). That’s all I got.

Don enjoying the charming buildings of Hoi An.

Exploring Hoi An

Trevor: According to Wikipedia, Hội An, with a population of approximately 120,000, is UNESCO World Heritage Site with a historic district that is recognized as an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Its buildings and street plan reflect a blend of indigenous and foreign influences, including the old town’s covered “Temple Bridge”, which dates to the 16th–17th century. Sounds charming. Otherwise, the name of the city, Hội An, translates as “peaceful meeting place” from Sino-Vietnamese, which is kind of the vibe I’m getting from a relatively small city with some interesting old architecture. Sound about right Scott?

Scott’s impressions on this trip – Hoi An

  • Wow – just so many tourists and tour groups – like swarms of bees in the old town; overwhelming
  • Best to do old town in early morning while locals are out and not all the tour groups
  • The nearby beaches are okay but don’t compare to Thailand, Cambodia or other spots in the region
  • Vespa Adventure well worth it
  • Heard My Son temple about 1hr away is nice but didn’t end up going; also was told if you’re seen other major monuments in the region then maybe not
  • Strolling, cooking courses and riding a bike around are the things to do
  • Really, it’s now overrun and I’m sadly not sure I can recommend it

Getting to Hue or vice versa: it’s about 3 hours via the Hai Vanh pass which was quite nice. Driver was about $100US. Check out some scenic spots, you can have a seafood lunch. You can also do it more direct in about 2hr if you wish from/to Da Nang airport.

Tasty Vietnamese cuisine.

Background of Hue: To paraphrase Wikipedia, Huế is a provincial capital in the North Central Coast. It was once the capital of Đàng Trong (an ancient fiefdom, perhaps) for almost 40 years in the 18th century and then of Vietnam during the Nguyễn dynasty which stood from 1802 to 1945. 

After serving as the Imperial City and administrative capital of the Nguyễn dynasty, Hue later functioned as the administrative capital of the protectorate of Annam during the French Indochina period. 

The city contains a UNESCO-designated site, the Complex of Huế Monuments, which is a popular tourist attraction. Alongside its moat and thick stone walls the complex encompasses the Imperial City of Huế; the Forbidden Purple City, the former emperor’s home; and a replica of the Royal Theater (from I don’t know where) Hanoi or Beijing, maybe Scott will say.

Otherwise, the oldest ruins in Hue belong to the Kingdom of Lam Ap, which I’ve never heard of until this moment – a Kingdom that dates back to the 4th century AD. 

Scott: You need really 2 nights and could do this in a day but best to relax a bit more.

  • See Imperial City and visit the emperors tombs
  • It’s along the Perfume River and a boat trip seems appealing but the ones I saw were enclosed and not appealing
  • I loved the two morning runs I did along the Perfume River and across Bridges and then around the moat of the Imperial City; would be good on a bike too.
  • Hue royal cuisine – there are some fine restaurants; They don’t eat Pho as much, instead their famous soup is Bun Bo Hue.
  • I have to say, a key difference of traveling here vs some other countries in the region is the aggressiveness of the sales people – constantly getting asked to go, buy, etc. 
Historic Hue, Vietnam.

Recommendations for exploring Hoi An and Hue, Vietnam.

  • If you’re a history buff then Hue will be interesting and is good for 2 or 3 nights. There are some stately hotels and simple ones too.
  • Hoi An – gosh – so gorgeous, but so overrun, do your research and be prepared for huge crowds.
  • Also check out the weather and be aware that Hoi An can get flooded in November
  • Vespa Adventure in both locations are well worth it
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