North Central Vietnam

Thai Binh - Ninh Binh - Around Ninh Binh - Phat Dien - Cuc Phuong National Park Vinh - Around Vinh - Phong Nha Cave - Dong Hoi


IDD Code: (+84) 52
Following the 1954 partition, Dong Ho; and its southern neighbour Dong Ha went horn being at the centre of the country to frontier towns. Both suffered more than most during the American War - as the ruins and bomb craters throughout the area will attest. The fact that Dong Hoi has bounced back to become an attractive city while Dong Ha still retains a badlands feel surely owes a lot to being on the winning side. It has a wonderful location with the Nhat Le River dividing the main part of the city from a beautiful sandy spit, with lengthy stretches of beach to the north and south of town. While most tourists head from Hanoi to Hue, Dong Hoi is the best spot to break up the journey. It's also a much nicer base to explore the DMZ sites than Dong Ha - but it's slightly further away, and being on the northern side you won't find as many English-speaking drivers. From Dong Hoi you can easily make a day trip to the Phong Nha Cave narrow spit forming the east bank of the Nhat Le River all the way to its mouth. Further beaches extend north of the town. All that remains of Dong Hoi Citadel (1825) are two beautifully restored gates, one just behind the Saigon Quang Binh Hotel and the other on Đ Quang Trung- A poignant reminder of the American War is the ruined church, by the river on Đ Nguyen Du. Another is the plane in front of a government building on Đ Quang Trung. The Me Suot statue (Đ Quach Xuan Ky) is lovely piece of socialist art, showing a proud heroine with a cartoonish wind at her back, rowing forward with her cargo of VC fighters.
Sleeping & Eating
You'll find dozens of hotels lining Hwy 1 A as it passes through town.
Hotel Mau Hong (tell: 821804,-Đ Truong Phap;rUS$MO;The friendliest of the riverfront cheapies, it's a small guesthouse run by a delightful family, with basic bright and clean rooms.
Guesthouse Ngoc Lan (tell: 843 732; r 120,000d; No English is spoken at this new minihotel on the beach side of Nhat Le bridge, but the rooms are spotless and in walking distance of the surf.
Hoang Linh Hotel (tell: 821 608; 9 Mac Dinh Chi; r 180,000d;An attractive new place with large comfortable rooms, right by the river at the south end of town.
Saigon Quangbinh Hotel (tell: 822 276; 20 Đ Quach Xuan Ky; rUS$58-81, ste US$127;This flash, new, Western-style hotel has a quiet riverside position and comfortable rooms, some with great views. Its restaurant (dishes 40,000d to 80,000d) is one of the few in town for those for whom linen tablecloths are a necessity. The small pool area faces the road and has an unusual decorative feature - the casings of American bombs.
Dong Hoi is on Hwy 1A, 166km north of Hue, 95km north of Dong Ha and 197km south of Vinh.
The train station (Ga Dong Hoi; tell: 820558; Đ Thuan Ly) is located 3km from Hwy 1A. Take Đ Tran Hung Dao until it crosses a bridge. A sign-post directs you to take the next right, then take another right and then the station is directly ahead.
The Reunification Express heads to destina- tions that include Hanoi (202,000d, nine to 12 hours, six daily), Vinh (80,000d, 31/2 to 91/2 hours, eight daily), Dong Ha (38,000d, two to 21/2 hours, six daily) and Hue (65,000d, 21/2 to 51/2 hours, eight daily).
One thing you'll undoubtedly see for sale at street stalls everywhere in Vietnam is betel nut. This is not a food - swallow it and you'll be sorry? The betel nut is the seed of the betel palm (a beautiful tree, by the way) and is meant to be chewed. The seed usually has a slit in it and is mixed with lime and wrapped in a leaf. Like tobacco, it's strong stuff that you can barely tolerate at first, but eventually you'll be hooked. The first time you bite into betel nut, your whole face gets hot - chewers say it gives them a buzz. Like chewing tobacco, betel nut causes excessive salivation and betel chewers must constantly spit. The reddish-brown stains you see on footpaths are not blood, but betel-saliva juice. Years of constant chewing cause the teeth to become stained progressively browner, eventually becoming nearly black.