Having visited North and South Vietnam a few times, it was about time to visit Central Vietnam as well. So we started planning for a trip to visit Danang, Hue and Hoi An in September 2014. We would be making the trip in May 2015 some nine months after purchasing air tickets and hotel bookings. We would be flying on Vietnam Airlines and our flights from Singapore would arrive and depart Danang, so we decided to spend 2 nights in Danang first then head to Hue for another 2 nights. After that we would stay 2 nights in Hoi An and finally return to Danang for one last night stay before taking our flight home.
As for hotels, since our first night arrival in Danang would be at night, so there was no point paying too much to stay at a posh and expensive hotel so we booked Sanouva Danang Hotel at the city centre for under US$46 inclusive of breakfast. The next day, we would then stay at the five stars Pullman Danang Beach Resort using our Accor Plus complimentary night stay. We also booked two nights hotel stay at Hue Serene Palace Hotel at under US$36 per night inclusive of breakfast for the third and fourth night stay. For the fifth and sixth night stay in Hoi An, we booked the Vinh Hung Emerald Resort and Little Hoi An Boutique Hotel and Spa at under US$54 and US$57 respectively. Finally the last night in Danang would be back to Pullman Danang Beach Resort using our Accor Plus complimentary night stay. All these fantastic hotel rates could be obtained via Agoda.com.
Cost for our airfare was S$253.90 each and our flight details as follows:
Singapore to Hanoi (VN662) 1.25 pm – 3.40 pm
Hanoi to Danang (VN 175) 6.10 pm – 7.10 pm
Danang to Ho Chi Min (VN 113) 12.05 pm – 1.20 pm
Ho Chi Min to Singapore (VN 659) 4.25 pm – 7.25 pm
The planned itineraries are as follows:
Day 1 (Danang)
Go to Changi Airport for lunch.
Take flight to Hanoi for transit.
Continue flight to Danang.
Arrive Danang at night at 7.10 pm.
Check into Sanouva Danang Hotel.
Rush to Dragon Bridge to watch the fire and water show on a weekend at 9 pm.
Day 2 (Danang)
Collect train tickets to Hue in the morning.
Do some shopping in the morning in Danang City.
After lunch, head to Pullang Danang Beach Resort.
Enjoy the beach and facilities at the resort.
Day 3 (Hue)
Enjoy our stay at Pullman Danang Beach Resort in the morning.
After lunch, head to train station to take train ride to Hue.
Arrive Hue before 5 pm, check in to Hue Serene Palace Hotel.
After dinner, explore Hue night market.
Day 4 (Hue)
Explore Hue City and visit attractions.
Shopping in Hue.
Day 5 (Hoi An)
After breakfast, take bus to Hoi An.
Arrive Hoi An around noon time.
Check into Vinh Hung Emerald Resort.
Enjoy resort facilities.
Visit Old Town and explore Hoi An at night.
Day 6 (Hoi An)
Shop in Hoi An after breakfast.
After lunch, check into Little Hoi An Boutique Hotel and Spa nearby.
More shopping in Hoi An and visit Old Town again.
Day 7 (Danang)
After breakfast, head back to Danang.
Check into Pullman Danang Beach Resort.
Enjoy beach and resort facilities.
Day 8 (Singapore)
After breakfast, proceed to Danang airport to take flight to Ho Chi Min City for transit before taking final flight to Singapore.
For transfer from Danang to Hue, we would be taking the train in the afternoon to enjoy the fantastic view from Hai Van Pass along the way. Coming back to Hoi An, we would be getting our hotel in Hue to help book bus tickets for the return leg of the trip.
So before our trip, we tried contacting our hotels in Danang to help purchase train tickets to Hue. Unfortunately, they could help us purchase the train tickets only when we arrived at the hotel. It happened that our elder daughter was visiting Ho Chi Min City with her colleagues. So she tried to help us get the hotel to book the train tickets but were told the soft seat tickets were sold out.
Then I tried booking the train tickets at their official website http://www.dsvn.vn. The soft seat tickets for our required date and time were not available. After checking their website a few times, surprisingly, two soft seat tickets were suddenly available so I booked the two seats immediately.
Unfortunately, when I tried to make payment with my credit card, it was unsuccessful. Apparently, they do no accept credit cards outside of Vietnam. However, I was given 24 hours to make payment while the seats were reserved for us. So I tried to get a friend in Vietnam to help make payment but he failed to pay before the 24 hours dateline as he was busy with work.
Nevertheless, he managed to book 2 hard bed tickets for us which cost 118,000 VND instead of 83,000 VND for each ticket when the soft seats were no longer available. It seems soft seats on shorter train rides are pretty popular and will be snatched up quite quickly once they are available for booking.
So purchasing train tickets in Vietnam is not so simple. There are agents in Vietnam who may be able to help foreigners to make train ticket bookings but will cost quite a lot more. As such, our hotel in Hue and also in Danang suggested we book a private transfer which cost more but more convenient and flexible as well. If the cost for train tickets for two or more passengers book through agents come close to the cost for a private transfer, then there is not much point travelling by train.
With flights settled and hotels booked since last September and finally with our train tickets paid for as well, we were all set to have a wonderful holiday in Central Vietnam.
Day 1 – Singapore to Danang Dragon Bridge
Nine months seemed to come so quickly and we were on our way to Changi Airport. A few days before our departure, I called up the office of Vietnam Airlines in Singapore to enquire about the transit at Hanoi Airport. I was told we had to collect our luggage upon arrival and proceed to the domestic terminal. We could follow the signage and just walk there. This piece of information didn’t seem right. We came back from Hanoi in December last year when the new International Terminal was just opened and the domestic terminal was quite far away that required a shuttle bus service. So when we approached the counter staff at Changi Airport, there wasn’t much useful information either except that we were assured Vietnam Airlines staff would assist us when we arrived in Hanoi.
With luggage checked in and boarding passes collected, we went for an early lunch. After some window shopping at the airport, we soon boarded our flight and Hanoi would be just about three hours away. When the aircraft was at cruising speed, meals were served onboard. It was pretty standard airlines meal which was sufficient to keep us going for the next few hours. Of course no inflight entertainment onboard Vietnam Airlines, unless you consider straining your neck to look at a small screen under the overhead locker to watch commercials and tourist attractions in Vietnam entertaining.
When our plane made the final approach to land, the plane suddenly made a quick pull up not far from the runway. The plane ascended and flew on for the next few minutes then banked left to make a full turn to approach the runway from the same direction again. Finally, we touched down without incident but our arrival was delayed for about 15 minutes because of this last minute unusual maneuver.
This was the first time we experienced such incident having flown to many destinations all these years. We did observe that fighter jets also used this same airport a few years back when we flew into Hanoi. We spoke to a Vietnamese passenger sitting next to us who flew back to Hanoi regularly and this was the first time he encountered this kind of incident. More disturbing was the fact that there was no announcement from the pilot what was happening and no explanation given about this aborted landing after we had landed. So Vietnam Airlines still have some way to go to catch up with international standards in the aviation industry.
Clearing immigration was trouble free and our luggage arrived after about 15 minutes wait. Soon we were walking out of the International Terminal building still with no sign of how to connect to the domestic terminal. We approached information counter and we were told to exit the terminal, turn right and head to pillar number 17 to wait for the shuttle bus. So we followed her direction and found the blue shuttle bus waiting with some passengers already on board. The bus was actually parked at pillar number 18. If you have huge luggage, you will have to pull them up the bus on your own. We didn’t have to wait long and the bus left and in about 10 minutes, we arrived the domestic terminal building.
Thankfully, we got down on the first stop which was for domestic flights for Vietnam Airlines. Some passengers remained onboard probably heading to another wing of the building to fly on some other airlines. Our queue to check in our bags didn’t take too long. After collecting our boarding passes, we cleared security and went to check out the shops and cafes inside the domestic terminal. As we still had time and our flight at 6.10 pm was delayed by another 15 minutes, we roamed around and looked at shops before finally settling down at a café for some bites.
Eventually we boarded our flight and were given a small bottle of mineral water during flight. But we experienced some turbulence during flight and thankfully we touched down at Danang Airport without incident unlike the aborted first attempted landing in Hanoi earlier in the afternoon. Danang Airport was rather quiet at night. We went to the baggage claim area and waited for awhile before our bags arrived. As we were running late hoping to catch the fire and water show at the Dragon Bridge at 9 pm, we exited the terminal building quickly. We got on a MaiLinh taxi soon after and were on our way to Sanouva Danang Hotel.
It was already after 8.15 pm when we arrived Sanouva Danang Hotel even though the hotel wasn’t very far from the airport. Checked in was pretty fast and the hotel staff were expecting us as we corresponded via emails a few times to inform them about our late arrival. We were told we were upgraded to a suite room on the 16th floor facing the Han River. This was the first piece of good news thus far. Next we were escorted to our room by a front desk staff.
She commented how beautiful Singapore was but lamented how food was so expensive when she visited Singapore some time ago and she had to survive on bread at times. We were sorry to hear that. She probably hung out at touristy places and didn’t visit some neighbourhood hawker centres for cheaper meals.
Anyway, our room was huge and had a splendid view of the Han River and we could see the Dragon Bridge some distance away. Having checked our room and with nothing amiss, we rushed out of the hotel and got on a MaiLinh taxi to head to the Dragon Bridge as it was already 8.45 pm. Concierge staff suggested we could walk there but by the time we arrived, the show would be over.
So in about 5 minutes, we were on the bridge where there was a huge traffic congestion and police directing traffic. Apparently, people with motorbikes were parked on the side of the bridge waiting for the show to take place leaving only one lane passable. The taxi driver was instructed by the hotel staff to alight us at the river side facing the head of the dragon to have a better view but with the congestion on the bridge, the show would have already started before we got there. So we decided to alight by the side of the bridge after the dragon head when it was possible to do so without causing the taxi driver to get a ticket from the police manning the road on the bridge. The taxi ride cost under 30,000 VND but we just paid the driver 30,000 VND.
After that we walked towards the crowd of people waiting excitedly for the fire and water show to begin. They were mostly locals both young and old, male and female chatting happily with their phones all ready to capture that pivotal moment of the first fire to begin blowing out from the dragon’s mouth. The whole atmosphere was pregnant with excitement and anticipation.
Finally, the moment arrived. A gulf of fire projected out from the dragon’s mouth in a loud blast as the crowd cheered in jubilation. More smoke and fire began rushing out from the dragon’s mouth and everyone was busy with their phones and camera taking pictures and videos of this exciting event. With the bridge lighting changing colours from time to time, the fire blowing became more beautiful and more captivating in that clear night sky over at Danang.
When the fire blowing came to an end, next came strong jets of water spraying out from the dragon’s mouth with more cheers again but causing those standing very near the dragon head to run further back. Those in front of us were wiping away water on their heads and faces but nevertheless enjoyed that unique experience. No one was complaining and smiles were everywhere. With the water jets sprayed out under different colour lighting, this again brought out the fascinating impact of what the famous Dragon Bridge of Danang had to offer to both locals and tourists alike.
Eventually the show ended and the crowd dispersed leaving the aftermath of the bridge in a wet and slippery condition near the front of the dragon head while the rest of the bridge remained unchanged. The Dragon Bridge was quiet once again with passing vehicles travelling smoothly on the bridge. This 15 minutes event during the weekends at 9 pm is a must experience highlight if you are visiting Danang during such a time.
With the show over and our objective accomplished, we took a slow walk back to Sanouva Danang Hotel. Along the way, we enjoyed the colourful and serene scene on the Han River. As we were already tired and hungry, we didn’t want to explore the Han River and decided to head back to the hotel for dinner and a good shower and rest. It took us about 20 minutes to find our way back with nothing much to see along the way as the shops were already closed.
When we reached the hotel, we went straight to the restaurant on the second floor. It was already 9.45 pm and the restaurant was about to close at 10 pm. The restaurant staff graciously allowed us to order our meals after checking with the chef still on duty. We ordered some simple local food but what we wanted most was a refreshing cold drink. It was summer time in Central Vietnam and temperature was in the high thirties. We had some fruit juice combinations and when our food arrived, we just devoured our dinner.
After that, we went back to our nice suite room. The shower was great after a full day of travelling and feeling great now having a fantastic room to enjoy the evening with the beautiful Han River in front of us. This suite room was wonderful as we sat on the sofa set to watch TV before heading to our nice and comfortable king bed to retire for the night. Catching up with the children back home was a priority now and they shared our joy of the Dragon Bridge show as well as the beautiful suite we were given.
It was really getting late so tucking into bed was the final piece of joy for the day. This was just the appetizer for our trip and we had not even started our tour proper yet. In the days ahead, we would plunge into the beauties and charms in Central Vietnam and would with great anticipation experience what this region had to offer. So with that we signed off into our dreams awaiting more fun in the coming days.
Continue to Day 2 …