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Glorious memories--and no malaria

If Danang sounds familiar, it's because Asia's newest holiday destination is really an old favorite

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If Danang sounds familiar, it's because Asia's newest holiday destination is really an old favorite. During the Vietnam War, American soldiers headed to Danang's infamous China Beach to surf and soak up the sun. More than 20 years later only one attraction sits among the palms: the two-year-old Furama Resort. Doomed by Danang's isolation in the middle of Vietnam, other ambitious projects have floundered.

But things are changing. Last week, Thai Airways began direct flights from Bangkok to Danang, three times weekly. Cathay Pacific and Vietnam Airlines, which run a joint service from Hong Kong to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, are likely to add Danang to their list next year. Links from Singapore and Malaysia are also being considered. Constructed during the war, the airport and runway are among the country's largest and best-equipped. The old hangars and bases are still visible and, along with Vietcong tunnels in the mountains, are prime tourist destinations.

Danang is expecting renewed visits from American veterans next spring, the 25th anniversary of the war's end. Furama general manager Paul Stoll, who has been pushing for Danang flights for years, says the area has much more to offer than war tourism. Besides spectacular beaches, the attractions include Hoi An, a charming coastal town that was on the old Macau-Malacca trading circuit. You can still see the varied influences in architecture and temples, a legacy of the Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese and Filipino visitors over the centuries. Forty minutes southwest of Hoi An are the Champa ruins at My Son, a sister site to Angkor Wat and Pagan. Two hours north of Danang is Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam. While it has a long way to go, China Beach is beginning to dream of reclaiming its crown as Asia's capital of R. and R.

By Ron Gluckman

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