Sprawling Dong Hoi is a pretty little town, which has fared a good bit better in the last three decades than it's neighbour 95 km to the south (with the confusingly similar name), Dong Ha.
Dong Hoi once had a citadel, though all that remain are a few picturesque moats and gates, which gives it a bit of the flavour of Hue.
There's also some war remnants, notably a burned out church that's been left standing as a memorial, between Nguyen Du and the Nhat Le River.
Further to the north, along Thruong Phat, there are what appear to be French-era bunkers and gun placements -- but, in the scheme of things, the wartime attractions are pretty mediocre.
Western visitors don't show up here in force, so not a lot of English is spoken anywhere outside of the swankier hotels, and tour services are harder to negotiate here than in Dong Ha.
While it is possible to tour the DMZ sites from here, you'll have to factor in at least three hours of round-trip drive time just to go and come back -- the real reason travellers stop here is to take a gander at the stunning Phong Nha Cave, 55 km away and easily reachable on a day trip.
A lesser reason is the Nha Le beach -- not a patch on the beaches south of Lang Co, but way better than Thuan An Beach near Hue -- so if you're in town on a sunny summers day, it'll do the trick.
While you're there, be sure to check out the Sun Spa Resort, even if you aren't staying there, for some surprisingly affordable a la carte services including watersports, tennis, yoga lessons, and spa services.
Don't bother looking for the 'centre of things' in Dong Hoi because there really isn't one, other than that formed by the city's main landmark, the Quang Binh gate. As Highway 1 passes through Dong Hoi, coming from the south, it changes name to Quang Trung after crossing Cau Dai (which means 'long bridge,' though it's actually pretty short). As the road passes the Quang Binh gate, it becomes Hung Vuong, and finally turns into Ly Thuong Kiet before reassuming its identity as Highway 1.
There are numerous hotels along this stretch of the road through town, all of which suffer a bit in quality due to the loud, honking trucks passing by all day long. Heading east from the gate along Me Suot, you'll find the town's central market, which is a good place to head for local food, coffee, and atmosphere. To the north of the market, following the river, is the Nhat Le bridge which cross the river it's named after, providing access to Nha Le beach. Other than the main beach, one guest house and the four-star Sun Spa resort, there is precious little out that way. North of the bridge, along the west bank of the river, there's a good variety of accommodation and very little traffic, making it a quiet alternative to Highway 1, though it may be harder to find services and places to eat nearby.
Heading west from the Quang Binh gate leads to Nguyen Huu Canh, and the bus station at the intersection with Tran Hung Dao. Continuing west on Tran Hung Dao leads to the Cho Ga (station market) a kilometre further on, in back of which sits the train station on Hoang Dieu. Continuing past the train station, the road hooks up with Phan Dinh Phung which heads west to join Ho Chi Minh -- Phong Nha cave is about 50 km further on from there.
The post office is located along Hung Vuong (Highway 1) at the north-west corner of Tran Hung Dao. Long Distance phone services are available.
There are plenty of ATMs around the Quang Binh gate, and half a dozen banks in the immediate area.
Incom Bank: 50 Ly Thuong Kiet, Dong Hoi. T: (052) 843 731, F: (052) 843 782. Hours: 08:30 to 11:30, 13:00 to 16:30 weekdays.
Main Post Office: 1 Tran Hung Dao, Dong Hoi. T: (052) 822 532, F: (052) 822 077. Hours: 06:00 to 21:30.