When you’re on the road, you’ll often encounter some pretty stringent opinions about things. The best place to stay, the worst restaurant in town, the biggest rip-off in the country, the most and least friendliest nationalities, etc. Everyone has his or her opinion, and that dichotomy is part of what makes travel great.

One of the more common ones we hear when we’re in Vietnam is where to base yourself when you’re exploring the country’s middle stretch, and it usually comes down to two places – Hoi An or Da Nang. Despite being less than 30km apart, the two cities are very different places.

Da Nang is a proper city, with over a million inhabitants, tall buildings, and a big airport. The traffic buzzes, the lights flash, and the beaches are crowded on sunny weekends. It’s a really nice town – if not an exciting one – with some great international flavor, plenty to eat and drink, and accommodation options to fit any budget and style of travel, but you might have to work a bit to find these. Many travelers arrive, look around a bit, shrug, and head off to greener pastures, but Da Nang is a city that rewards patience and exploration. A nice museum, some lovely colonial-era architecture, and an awesome street food scene add to the reasons a bit of research will reward.

Hoi An, on the other hand, is like someone took Da Nang and squeezed until only the picture-perfect tourist ideal remained – and not much else. That’s not to say Hoi An isn’t enjoyable – in fact, it’s one of our favorite destinations – but it exists solely to cater to what tourists want, and not the things that make a big city thrive, like a downtown core or an airport. But what Hoi An lacks in big city utilities it makes up for with atmosphere. This place has charm on top of charm. Gorgeous, decaying old buildings line every street, spicy food and sweet, strong Vietnamese coffee is available everywhere you look. When the sun goes down the entire city – especially along the Thu Bồn River – is illuminated by colorful, ethereal lanterns.

The two towns are so close that no matter which one you stay in, you’re only a short trip away from the other one, so it’s really a matter of what you want to focus on during your trip. Hoi An’s beaches are probably nicer, although Da Nang’s beaches have their champions too. Both have excellent seafood. The photo ops in Hoi An are so plentiful that it’s almost impossible to take a bad picture. Da Nang’s photo ops are a bit harder to find, but some say that makes them all the more treasured.

You see? Even we can’t make a definitive suggestion. The bottom line is that both places are great to base yourself during your central Vietnam excursions, although it’s likely that neither one will tick all the boxes on your ‘Best City Ever’ checklist. The best thing to do is figure out exactly why you’ll be spending a bit of time in this region and make the decision based on this. And hey, if things don’t work out to your liking, a change of scenery to the other city (or one of the many options in the surrounding area) is easy as pie. Need help planning a Vietnam holiday right for you? Let us help!