Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Quang Binh
Designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003, the remarkable Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park contains the oldest karst mountains in Asia, formed approximately 400 million years ago. Riddled with hundreds of cave systems – many of extraordinary scale and length – and spectacular underground rivers, Phong Nha is a speleologists’ heaven on earth. The caves are the region's absolute highlights, but the above-ground attractions of forest trekking, the area's war history, and rural mountain biking means it deserves a stay of around three days.
Imperial Enclosure, Hue
The Imperial Enclosure is a citadel-within-a-citadel, housing the emperor’s residence, temples and palaces, and the main buildings of state, within 6m-high, 2.5km-long walls. What’s left is only a fraction of the original – the enclosure was badly bombed during the French and American Wars, and only 20 of its 148 buildings survived. This is a fascinating site easily worth half a day, but poor signage can make navigation a bit difficult. Restoration and reconstruction is ongoing.
Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An
This beautiful little bridge is emblematic of Hoi An. A bridge was first constructed here in the 1590s by the Japanese community to link it with the Chinese quarters. Over the centuries the ornamentation has remained relatively faithful to the original Japanese design. The French flattened out the roadway for cars, but the original arched shape was restored in 1986. The bridge is due for a complete removal for repair, so check it's open before you travel, if making a special trip.
Hang En, Quang Binh
This gigantic cave is very close to Hang Son Doong, and both featured in a National Geographic photographic spread in 2011. Getting here involves a trek through dense jungle, valleys and the Ban Doong minority village, a very remote tribal settlement (with no electricity or roads). You stay overnight in the cave or in a minority village.
Dragon Bridge, Da Nang
Welcome to the biggest show in town every Saturday and Sunday night. At 9 pm, this impressive dragon sculpture spouts fire and water from its head near the Han River's eastern bank. The best observation spots are the cafes lining the eastern bank to the north of the bridge; boat trips taking in the action also depart from Bach Dang on the river's western bank. The color-changing Dragon Bridge sees selfie-takers parking their scooters on the bridge every night.
Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue
Built on a hill overlooking the Song Huong (Perfume River), 4km southwest of the Citadel, this pagoda is an icon of Vietnam and as potent a symbol of Hue as the Citadel. The 21m-high octagonal tower, Thap Phuoc Duyen, was constructed under the reign of Emperor Thieu Tri in 1844. Each of its seven storeys is dedicated to a manushi-buddha (a Buddha that appeared in human form). Visit in the morning before tour groups show up.
Paradise Cave, Quang Binh
Surrounded by forested karst peaks, this remarkable cave system extends for 31km, though most people only visit the first kilometre. The scale is breathtaking, as wooden staircases descend into a cathedral-like space with colossal stalagmites and glimmering stalactites. Get here early to beat the crowds, as during peak times (early afternoon) tour guides shepherd groups using megaphones. Paradise Cave is about 14km southwest of Son Trach. Electric buggies (per person one way/return 15,000/25,000d) ferry visitors from the car park to the entrance.