Mixing old with new in central Vietnam

Updated: 2014-01-26 07:31

By Donna Mah(China Daily)

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 Mixing old with new in central Vietnam

A view from the pool of beach of the InterContinental's signature kids' club, Planet Trekkers. Photos by Donna Mah / For China Daily

 Mixing old with new in central Vietnam

A vender makes a delicious Vietnamese baguette sandwich at the Hoi An street food market.

 Mixing old with new in central Vietnam

Deep-fried quail eggs are available at Hoi An's market.

 Mixing old with new in central Vietnam

Most of the quaint old buildings have been converted into stores in Hoi An's old town.

History, leisure and pleasure are served up in equal amounts in Danang, writes Donna Mah.

One of the first things you will notice on the drive into Danang from the airport is the number of scooters on the road. The second thing you may notice is that the lines drawn on the road are more an indication of where your vehicle should be on the road rather than a rule.

Still, with what seems like organized chaos to a visitor, drivers here seemed unfazed and confident about weaving around the scooters that are dodging other scooters, bicycles and cars.

Danang is located in south-central Vietnam at the mouth of the Han River along the coast of the South China Sea. Easy to get to by air from Hong Kong, the international airport is the third largest in Vietnam.

It is not necessarily a great destination on its own, but with three UNESCO heritage sites located nearby - the Hue Imperial City, the old town of Hoi An and the Hindu temple ruins of My Son - it is perfectly located for tourists to the area. Visitors can choose to take day trips to the historical sites and stay in Danang city as their main base.

Our destination after arriving at the airport was the InterContinental Sun Peninsula Danang located on a gorgeous stretch of sand about 30 minutes from the airport.

As we got closer to the resort, we noticed fewer and fewer vehicles as we drove along the coast past the Goddess of Mercy statue located near the foot of Monkey Mountain along the Son Tra Peninsula. Greeted by friendly and helpful staff, we were soon relaxing in one of the stunning ocean-view rooms in the resort.

Traveling with two young children, both younger than 5, we were all a bit tired and looking forward to becoming familiar with the room and getting some rest.

The kids were excited to find a giant bathtub that served as their mini-pool during our stay. Large, comfy chairs on the outdoor terrace make it a great place to sit and read while enjoying a cup of java.

The high table and chairs overlooking the sea provide a gorgeous dining location for sampling the resort's in-room dining while taking in the stunning views from the terrace.

The resort itself is spread over 39 hectares and cascades down the Son Tra Peninsula's Monkey Mountain with four levels - Heaven, Sky, Earth and Sea. We stayed on the Sky level and loved taking the "Nam Tram" cable car up and down from Heaven to Sea. Breakfast each morning was in Heaven at Citron restaurant while afternoon siesta time was spent by the pool at Sea level. At Citron, snag one of the round booth tables that extend out of the restaurant to take full advantage of the view.

The resort is a great place to wander or just lounge by the pool with a good book. There are, of course, also lots of things to do at the resort including tai chi, yoga, working out at the gym or enjoying a meal or two at one of the many restaurants onsite, including cuisine headlined by three Michelin-starred Michel Roux at La Maison1888.

For those traveling with children, the InterContinental's signature kids' club, Planet Trekkers, is the place to leave the kids. Under the watchful eye of childcare professionals, children are entertained in a safe and fun environment. An after-hours babysitting service is also available for parents who would like some "couple time".

On our visit we also went to the historical old town of Hoi An. It is only a 45-minute drive from the resort and a daily shuttle bus service is available, or you can choose to book a private car to visit at your leisure.

Hoi An has a lovely old town area where most of the quaint old buildings have been converted into stores selling custom-tailored clothing, shoes and souvenirs. After a while, the stores do all start to look the same.

To see the sights of the old town, visit one of the many tourism offices where for VDN120,000 ($6) you can buy a set of tickets to visit five of the 22 tourist sites in the area. One of the most beautiful sites is the charming pink-hued bridge built by the Japanese in the 1590s. It houses a temple and is guarded by a stone monkey statue and a stone dog statue.

As for food, most of the restaurants in the old town cater to tourists, so don't expect a truly authentic Vietnamese meal here.

One place to avoid is the Yellow Flowers Riverside Restaurant where the Chinese menu showed prices that were higher than on the English version of the menu - which were already on the high side.

However, if you enjoy street food, then you'll be satisfied here. Crispy Vietnamese pancakes, deep-fried quail eggs wrapped in soft rice paper with fresh salad (highly recommended), steamed white rose dumplings, hot bowls of pho noodles in soup, baguettes filled with sliced meat and salad, and deliciously sweet fried sliced bananas and sweet potatoes are among the menu.

Exploring by bicycle is a great way to see the town and get a bit of exercise. Though it is possible to visit Hoi An as a day trip, a night or two here to enjoy some sightseeing by bicycle and a few hours at the nearby beaches might be a great way to see more of this charming and friendly town.

We didn't have time to visit Hue on this trip, so next time!

Contact the writer at sundayed@chinadaily.com.cn.

Mixing old with new in central Vietnam

(China Daily 01/26/2014 page8)