The most important aspect of Nghe An, Vietnam’s largest province, is that it is the hometown of President Ho Chi Minh. It is also home to other unspoilt natural surprises.
Nghe An weather is said to be ideal from December to April for tourists to visit during the dry season when outdoor activities are unlikely to be hampered by rain.
Those with a particular fondness for flowers should visit the province from December to near the Lunar New Year holiday when large fields of sunflowers are in bloom.
Nghe An, on the north-central coast bordering Laos, has an area of more than 16,400 square kilometers. In order to visit all the landmarks here, it would take at least a week, but those with limited time can limit themselves to a few iconic attractions.
Nghe An is the hometown of President Ho Chi Minh, therefore historical complexes and monuments to him and his family is usually the top item on any itinerary.
Located in Kim Lien Village of Nam Dan District, the National Special Relic Site Commemorating President Ho Chi Minh is poised to develop into a historic tourism complex under a government master plan.
It covers an area of 278 hectares, including Sen Village, Hoang Tru Village, Chung Mountain and the tomb of President Ho Chi Minh’s mother.
"The complex has drawn the attention of both domestic and international travelers thanks to its significant historical values. Many foreign tourists, particularly from the U.S. and France, visit this place to learn more about the life of the great Ho Chi Minh," said a representative of Hanoi-based tour agency HelloVietnam Company.
For Vietnamese citizens visiting the Chung Son Temple is a spiritual, patriotic experience.
Apart from this historical aspect, a visit to the province also offers the opportunity to enjoy the tranquil vibes of a peaceful Vietnamese countryside with rice fields, lotus ponds and other rural charms.
Located on Ho Chi Minh Road near the border with Laos, the Thanh Chuong tea hills are unlike its famous peers in Moc Chau or Da Lat that are accessible on foot. The tea hills in Thanh Chuong District are on a small peninsula that can only reached by boats.
More than 50 years ago, the place was an irrigation lake built to water more than 700 hectares of rice fields in Thanh An and Thanh Thinh communes in Thanh Chuong District. It was only a few years ago that residents started planting tea. Now there are nearly 200 households growing tea on over 400 hectares.
Thanks to its unique geographical location, the tea hills here have become an eco-tourism destination in the north central region, allowing local farmers to improve their income by offering tourism services.
There are dozens of motorboats ready to take tourists on a cruise for about VND30,000 ($1.28) per person if they travel in a group. An excursion on one’s own will cost VND150,000 ($6.44).
Each boat carries a maximum of 20 people and most boats are invested and operated by locals.
Visitors can stay overnight on the Thanh Chuong tea hill. There are a number of homestay accommodations that charge about VND150,000 per night.
A cruise and/or a stay on this tea hill facilitates close encounters with the life of the Thai ethnic minority community. Enjoying their hospitality can include relishing local specialties like "hill chicken."
The Pu Mat National Park is part of the Western Nghe An Biosphere Reserve, one of six areas in Vietnam recognized as world biosphere reserves by UNESCO.
The area is still "undeveloped" from a tourism standpoint, making it all the more attractive.
A trekking tour is the best way to explore the national park that is currently home to species of nearly 900 flora, 240 mammals, around 140 birds, 25 reptiles and 15 amphibians.
The most popular hike takes visitors to the Kem Waterfall, from where one can descend to Khe Bu Valley or ascend the Pu Luong Mountain. A round trip takes 6-8 hours for experienced trekkers.
The Khe Kem Waterfall, which cascades from a height of 150 meters in the middle of the jungle, is a stunning sight.
A peaceful, quiet boat tour along the Giang River is a great way to commune with nature.
The national park is mainly inhabited by the Thai ethnic minority group who live in houses on stilts.
Their night feasts are an event that allows visitors to try unique mountainous dishes, not to mention the joy of dancing the night away with the locals.
Covering an area of nearly 10 hectares along the Giang River, the Pha Lai eco-tourism area is also an ideal camping spot in Nghe An.
Part of the Pu Mat National Park, Pha Lai is surrounded by lush green forests with year-round cool climate that make it a perfect summer escape in the north central region.
Kayaking down the Giang River to explore Pha Lai reservoir built 20 years ago to irrigate local farms, a zipline connecting the two riverbanks are other activities to be enjoyed here.
The 15-meter-high Tham On cave in Chau Thuan Commune, Quy Nhon District, was identified as an archaeological excavation site in 1975.
Three human teeth and several fossils of animal teeth were discovered along with some quartz tools, relics almost 200,000 years old. It is said that humans in the Tham Om cave were the first people to dwell in Vietnam.
The Muong Long Sky Gate is a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains that reach up to 1,500 meters high in the Truong Son range.
Because of the high mountainous terrain, the air here is cool all year round, with temperatures never exceeding 25 degrees Celsius. Muong Long has been compared to two misty towns: Sa Pa and Da Lat.
Cloud hunting at the Muong Long sky gate and learning about the life and culture of the Hmong people who live there are not to be missed experiences in Nghe An.
The central province is also home to beautiful beaches like Cua Lo, Dien Thanh and Quynh. Kayaking, kite flying, surfing, windsurfing and fishing tours ensure fun times.
At the Cua Lo beach, one of the most interesting activities is going fishing with local fishermen at night. This involves going about 50 to 100m off the shore. And the catch of the day is cooked right on the boat as it returns to shore.
The province has several luxury accommodations including Vinpearl Cua Hoi, the Muong Thanh Hotel, Saigon-Kim Lien and Summer resorts with room rates ranging from VND1-3 million ($42.51-127.52) a night.
The Bai Lu Resort in Nghi Loc District, nestling amidst green pine trees, is a great place to stay.
Hai Dang, Xanh, Tien Anh, Pacific Ocean in Cua Lo or Lam Hong, Beijing in Vinh Town are budget friendly options with room rates starting from VND400,000 per night.
Eel porridge is a must-try specialty in Nghe An. Before being added to the porridge, the eel is fried with lemongrass, chili and garlic, making the dish tastier, more fragrant and more visually appealing. To make it more savory, add some minced chili and pepper.
The dish is served at Ms. Ngo’s restaurant on Doc Thet Street in Vinh Town, Ms. Lieu’s stall on Mai Hac De Street or Oanh Dung Restaurant on Dao Tan Street.
Unlike the water fern cake in Hue which is made from rice flour, the Nghe An version is made with tapioca starch. The baker must knead the dough thoroughly and stuff the shrimp in quickly while the water is still hot to make a delicious batch.
The deep-fried shrimps are spicy and delicious. Topping choices include onion, garlic, and a spicy, sweet and sour sauce.
The water fern cakes, or banh beo, are served at 54 Phong Dinh Cang Street in Vinh Town and Ms. Chau’s stall on Le Van Huu Street.
Banh muot, or steamed rice rolls, is a signature dish in Nghe An.
To have this dish at its best, gourmands visit the coastal district of Dien Chau, where many families have been making it for generations. For locals, this is a breakfast staple.
Banh muot is usually cut to the length of a finger. It is white, soft and not sticky. The aromatic rolls are served hot.
You can also have banh muot with duck, chicken or beef stew and stewed pig's offal.
The dish can be found at the Thanh Phong Restaurant on Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street and Lan Thanh Restaurant on Phan Chu Trinh Street.
Grilled eel is also a must-try dish in Nghe An.
The "jumping squid" caught by fishermen here is another delicacy. Nghe An squid is grilled and served with a chili sauce or a salt and pepper sauce. Many seafood stalls on the Cua Lo beach serve this popular dish.
Located at the center of the north central coast, Nghe An is around 290 km from Hanoi and 1,400 km from Ho Chi Minh City.
The most popular means of transportation to Nghe An from Vietnam’s two biggest cities is by air. There are daily flights to Vinh, the capital town.
Vinh Airport also hosts flights to and from Bangkok.
The fastest train to Vinh from Hanoi takes 5 hours and 30 minutes. From Da Nang to Vinh, the travel time in 9 hours; and it takes more than a day to reach Vinh from HCMC.
All the train trips allow passengers to enjoy the Vietnamese countryside landscapes.
Taking the bus from Ha Noi to Nghe An Vietnam is less expensive than flying, but the travel time is almost 6 hours. The buses leave Hanoi every hour, so it is very easy to catch one.
Buses to Vinh leave from the My Dinh, Giap Bat and Nuoc Ngam terminals. A ticket costs VND250,000 to 400,000.
Story by Phuong Anh, Hoang Phong