An authentic slice of Vietnam off the beaten path
The capital of Thanh Hoa province, Thanh Hoa city is little visited by Western tourists so it retains a strongly Vietnamese flavour; domestic tourists flock to the nearby beach resorts at Sam Son. It lies on a coastal plain through which the Song Ma river flows and rugged peaks surround the town, including the small mountains of Ham Rong and Mat Son, both of which can be seen on a clear day.
Little traditional architecture remains here, but the city that has been re-built since the war against America has wide, tree-lined avenues, quiet backstreets and a number of relaxing parks and lakes. This is not a city to visit for bucket list sights or nightlife, but to experience everyday Vietnamese life, eat some fantastic street food and spend lazy afternoons sipping iced coffee with the locals.
Things to do
Get on the drip
Like most cities in Vietnam, Thanh Hoa is home to a huge number of coffee shops. The streets around the market areas and the cathedral offer plenty of opportunities to pull up a tiny stool at a pavement cafe and order a cool glass of ca phe nau da — iced coffee with sweet condensed milk.
Trip on nature
Alongside beautiful forested hills, Ben Em National Garden is home to a large, picturesque islet-dotted lake and a wide variety of fauna. It can be reached by a 35km taxi ride. Heading east, Sam Son beach is serviced by regular local buses. Crowded from May to September, it’s less busy further away from the restaurant area.
Pho and away
In the morning, find big pots of aromatic pho — Vietnam’s national noodle soup — in small, simple food shops all over town. This flavourful broth with hints of star anise is best enjoyed by adding a spritz of lime and some fresh chilli. Later in the day, grills will fire up with street-side chefs preparing vit quay (grilled duck). Just follow your nose, particularly on Ben Ngu Street.
The bell tolls
Only a small proportion of Thanh Hoa’s population is Roman Catholic, but the city boasts a pretty 1930s cathedral built in the French style — Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Cathedral. The small streets around it are also pleasant for a morning stroll and provide great opportunities to capture photographs of everyday street life.
Thanh Hoa is home to a number of interesting markets, the best of which are Cho Tay Thanh, Cho Nam Thanh and Cho Vuon Hoa. All are best visited in the early morning, when trade is brisk and locals come out not only to shop, but to share the latest gossip and catch up with friends, creating a warm social buzz among the stalls.
Distance to city centre 45km
Taxi Meter taxis are available outside arrivals. A taxi into the city centre takes around 50 minutes and costs about VND 750,000.Back to top
When to go
Thanh Hoa has four seasons. December to February can be cool and a little damp, while from March to April the weather warms and flowers bloom. From May to September, it’s hot and wetter. From October to November, temperatures are milder.
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Tet Trung Thu, is a good time to visit. Centred around children, young people perform lion dances and take part in processions, bringing the streets to life with vivid displays of colour. During the Tet festival (Lunar New Year), the city almost closes down for over a week as Thanh Hoa residents visit family members and pagodas.Back to top
Thanh Hoa is compact enough to navigate largely on foot, however when the weather heats up, you may wish for an alternative. Meter taxis are plentiful and cheap, while xe om, or motorcycle taxis, await on every corner and are even cheaper, but make sure you agree on a price before getting on (don't be afraid to bargain) and make sure motorcycle travel is covered by your travel insurance.Back to top