Marble Mountains, a group of five limestone and marble outcroppings high above China Beach and just south of Danang // © 2013 Thinkstock
It’s hard to avoid the evidence of war in Vietnam, especially around Danang on the central coast. In 1885, the French grabbed a toehold there and eventually expanded their control over the entire country. In 1965, the U.S. invaded, with Marines wading ashore only to be greeted by young Vietnamese women wearing the traditional ao dai and carrying leis. The Americans didn’t pull out until eight years later.
Today, Danang is at the hub of one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in Vietnam. Major airlines now schedule flights into Danang, and the central coast, from Hue in the north to Hoi An and China Beach — where the U.S. landed. The area is now blossoming with luxury resorts.
One of these retreats is The Nam Hai, an oceanfront property with 60 one-bedroom villas and 40 pool villas ranging from one- to five-bedrooms. The resort, which opened in 2006 and faces out on the South China Sea, has already made several major magazines’ “best” lists.
One unique feature of The Nam Hai is the resort’s “garden house” architecture, which is a modern interpretation of the traditional Vietnamese garden house known as nha ruong, or “house of panels.” In the old days, a panel was placed at the entrance to each house in the belief that it would ward off evil spirits. No such evil spirits exist at the Nam Hai, but each villa complex has its own panel in front just the same.
We used The Nam Hai as a jumping off point for several nearby sites. The first was the old trading port of Hoi An, which used to be the center of commerce for Japanese and Chinese merchants until the river became clogged with silt and made passage impossible. Today, Hoi An is known for its well-preserved collection of merchants’ homes, riverfront streets and Chinese assembly halls.
The merchants’ homes are laid out in typical Chinese corridor style, with the floor of the front room shop raised slightly as a good omen, in the belief that income would flow downhill to the back living area.
On another day, we went further inland and visited My Song, a holy site of temples that was all but buried in the jungle until 1898, when French archaeologists discovered them and began excavations. Many of the most valuable sculptures were stripped and taken to museums in Danang, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Sadly, My Song became a victim of the American War, as the Vietnamese call it. Many of the 1,500-year-old structures were destroyed by U.S. bombing, including the 79-foot-tall Al Kalan tower, considered the masterpiece of the complex. Two spent American bombs are on display in the My Song gift shop.
On our last day, we visited Marble Mountains, a group of five limestone and marble outcroppings high above China Beach and just south of Danang. During the war, it was a hideout for the Vietcong, who could actually see the U.S. troops at China Beach far below. A large hole in the roof of one of the chambers attests to the precision of U.S. bombing, but the Buddha statue inside was mercifully spared.