As you cross Hai Van Pass from the north, the climate changes instantly. The splendid Lang Co Beach rises up into the hills before you reach the pass, stretching far to the north with an unobstructed panorama of beach, dunes, mountains and sea. Danang is noted as the former home to an American military complex.
The nearby R&R site of China Beach (My Khe) is now a peaceful shoreline for the brave basket-boat fishermen. The Cham Museum provides an excellent introduction to the Champa Empire, which preceded the Vietnamese civilization by a thousand years. Towering above China Beach is a group of limestone pinnacles known as the Marble Mountains. Although crowded with insistent young pedlars, this historic site was once utilized as a Viet Cong stronghold and houses an amazing cave-temple with expansive views of the coastline.
THE DEMILITARIZED ZONE (DMZ)
Those who watched the daily broadcasts of war will certainly remember the 17th parallel as a sight of some of the most horrific battles ever waged. The former firebases and battle sites of Khe Sanh, Camp Carroll, The Rockpile, Dong Ha and Hamburger Hill were all located within the area south of the DMZ. During the worst times, the Vietnamese built a series of underground tunnel-cities, of which Vinh Moc is best preserved.
A day trip from Hué will be long as you forge over the potholed roads searching for signs from the war. Very little remains of the former battles (Vietnam's second-largest export during the '80s was scrap metal) but the scenery and ethnic villages are stunning and the locals are quite hospitable. Although the terrain has changed, the DMZ remains as a dark memory for both Vietnamese and Americans.
PLEIKU & BUON MA THUOT
These interesting Central Highland areas near the Cambodian and Laos borders are home to many of the ethnic tribal minorities of Vietnam. These two towns also have the dubious distinction of being the sites of the first battle (Pleiku) and the last battle (Buon Ma Thuot) of the American-Vietnam war. Just recently opened to visitors, this is one of the least visited parts of Vietnam. Elephant treks can be arranged, starting from Buon Ma Thuot.
In future years this will probably develop into one of Southeast Asia's largest beach resorts. At the moment, however, it remains a seaside town reeking of faded French-colonial elegance and a hint of the economic development boom to come. The town, fringing one of Vietnam's most beautiful beaches, also is the site of Po Nagar Cham Towers. This site, used for Hindu worship between the 7th and the 12th centuries, is still a vital shrine for ethnic-Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists. You may consider a stay at the hilltop Bao Dai's Villas. Built in the 1920's, this villa once housed Bao Dai, the last Emperor of Vietnam. Some of the best swimming and snorkeling in Vietnam can be done around the islands that dot the South China Sea near town.
Nha Trang also boasts the home of Alexander Yersin. Dr. Yersin became famous in the medical field with his discovery of the origin of bubonic plague. He later established four Pasteur Institutes throughout Vietnam, took part in the foundation of Dalat and settled in Nha Trang. His home, now a museum, is open daily.
Nestled in the central highlands, Dalat was once known as Le Petit Paris. At an elevation of 4,400 feet, the town was settled by the French who chose to escape the summer heat in Saigon. Vietnamese tourists now frequent the area as a popular honeymoon destination. Dalat is considered one of the most appealing towns in Vietnam, with its magnificent colonial villas, premier golf course, fruit orchards and comfortable weather. The town is also a major trading center for Montagnards (or hill tribes) and was the summer residence of Bao Dai, the last emperor.