Sprawling Nghe An province juts westward into northeastern Laos and cups around the South China Sea to the east. To the north lies Thanh Hoa province and to the south you'll find the equally uninteresting Ha Tinh province. Nghe An though is a little more interesting.
For starters, as soon as you step into Nghe An you're steping into Ho Chi Minh's birthplace and as such, for cadres-cum-tourists Nghe An is where it's at. Uncle Ho was born in the hamlet of Kim Lien some 15km north of the provincial capital and today it's a pilgrimage spot.
The provincial capital on the other hand, Vinh, is a large industrious town, home to a sizeable port -- if that doesn't sound too enticing then you're right on the money. US bombers absolutely flattened the city during the American War and while scarce evidence of the bombing remains, what does remain are loads of what-were-they-thinking communist-era buildings which were built with East German assistance once the war ran down.
When they think of Vinh, the first thing that comes to mind for the Vietnamese is "Ho Chi Minh". He was born and raised in the small, humble hamlet of Kim Lien just 15 km outside the city. Today, it's a well-preserved pilgrimage spot for the party faithful, and a good stop for travellers interested in a thorough understanding of Vietnamese contemporary culture.
The port of Vinh was a major source of supplies destined for the Ho Chi Minh trail, and as a result, the city was repeatedly bombed back into the stone age during the American war. You won't see much evidence of that now, though we did spot some old bunkers along the nearby beach at Cua Lo.
Cua Lo is a popular Vietnamese tourist magnet, with many hotels that have been around since before Doi Moi. The beach is quite decent, the scene is very local, with a strong reputation for massage parlours and the associated sex trade. You'll probably want to do your serious summer beach going further to the south, but if you wind up here in good weather it's worth a day-trip or an overnight.
Vinh is located along Highway 1, 197 km north of Dong Hoi, and just under a hundred kilometres from the Lao border at the NamCan / Nam Khan crossing. It's about 290 km south of Hanoi, 1,430 km north of Ho Chi Minh City, and its an express stop on the train line.
The main reason people find themselves in Vinh is to make a run for the border between Vietnam and Laos. There's now two border crossings one can opt for -- to the southwest via Route 8 lies the Nam Phao / Cau Treo which leads to Lak Xao and eventually Tha Khaek; and to the northwest via Route 7 is the NamCan / Nam Khan crossing which ends up in Phonsavan in Laos.
By Sarah Turner.