Amazing – said in awestruck tones – is the most frequent reaction of visitors to the culture and natural heritage sites that the Central region of Vietnam offers, bet it the Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, the complex of Hue Monuments, the old town of Hoi An of the sacred My Son monuments.
A region known for having to consistently bear the wrath of nature – an annual storm and flooding season that leaves a trail of destruction in its wake – is also the recipient of its munificence.
The Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 is located in Quang Binh province’s Bo Trach and Minh Hoa districts, about 500km south of Hanoi. This 200,000 hectare park houses the most spectacular caves and underground water resources that leave people flabbergasted with their scale and remarkable beauty.
The main cave that visitors are allowed to discover is only one of more than 300 caves expanding over 800 km. The Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park boats many world records, including the longest water caves, the highest and widest cave opening, the widest and most beautiful sand and stone beach, the most beautiful underground lake and the longest underground river.
The latest discovery was Paradise Cave that has a length of more than 36 km. Although the Paradise Cave has only been partially opened for tourism, its miraculous stalactites, underground rivers and cultural inscriptions of the old kingdom of Champa are more than enough to leave visitors stunned and charmed.
Going further southward, we will reach the complex of Thua Thien Hue monuments, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. Being an imperial capital under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), Hue was a political, cultural and religious centre. The dreamlike gardens, temples and monuments in this complex have never failed to win the admiration of later generation.
The imperial capital has four citadels: Kinh Thanh (Capital City) that house official administrative buildings, Hoang Thanh (Imperial City) for royal palaces and shrines, Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden City) for royal residences, Dai Noi (Inner City), and Tran Binh Dai, an additional defensive work in the north-east corner of the Capital City.
During the decades of war waged against colonialists and imperialists, many architectural structures in the Inner City were damaged but they have since been restored.
The tombs of several former kings, including Tu Duc, Minh Mang and Khai Dinh, are located outside the Capital City, each an architectural masterpiece depicting the Oriental outlook on life.
The royal monuments are jewels in the crown of Hue, a place with romantic charms like the Ngu Binh Mountain and the Perfume River, and its history and cultural characteristics are always a magnet for researchers.
Passing the Hai Van Tunnel between Thua Thien Hue and Da Nang City, visitors can access two heritage sites in Quang Nam Province: the old town of Hoi An and the holy land of My Son. Hoi An is a remarkably well-preserved trade port town built in the 17th century, despite the strong development of its peripheral areas. It bears architectural structures that combine Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese influences, including China’s Fujian and Gangdong clubhouses, Japanese bridge, old French-style villas and block of two-storied wooden houses.
In the evening, Hoi An becomes even more exotic as it gets lit up by traditional lanterns hanging from the roof of ancient wooden houses, as people listen to local folk songs and watch girls in ao dai selling various goods. There is no sound of any engine to be heard during this time of day.
During the day, it’s great time to go shopping for traditional hand-made products such as silk, carved wooden items and pottery.
Not far from Hoi An is the sacred land of My Son, a valley by the Bon River. Despite having to suffer the wrath of energy bombs, My Son still retains valuable vestiges of Hinduism’s sole heritage site in Vietnam, the Champa towers.
In 1999, UNESCO recognized My Son as a World Heritage Site. Travelers across the world admire its cultural and architectural masterpieces built during the reign of the Champa kings, who controlled what is now central Vietnam from roughly the 7th century through to 1832.
There are still dozens of temples and towers in the valley left from this period in Vietnam’s history, showcasing the art of carving, mysterious construction techniques, and the religious traditions that are going to intrigue generations to come.
Information of getting there:
To reach Central Vietnam, fly to Da Nang or Hue from most of the world major cities using the flight network of Skyteam of Vietnam Airlines.