I’ve been longing to visit the central Vietnamese cities of Da Nang and Hoi An for some time. But Covid19 had put a more than 2 years hiatus on all overseas trips until now. With the reopening of unrestricted tourism in most Southeast Asian countries it was time to plan my visit this August.

Endless Beaches

Da Nang is the gateway to central Vietnam with it’s international airport serving Korea and several Southeast Asian cities like Singapore and Bangkok. So it was a breeze for me to fly in on a 2 hour flight from Singapore. But somehow, Da Nang isn’t as popular as the other 2 tourist draws of Bangkok and Bali, which is also a good thing, as this means that its not as crowded.

If you are a beach bum and don’t like overcrowded beaches, then Da Nang is the place for you. With more than 10 km of sandy white beaches, you can park yourself anywhere to enjoy the sun, sand and sea.

Most of the seaside resorts have their own beach fronts. However, these aren’t fenced off so anyone could come in. However, with such a long beach front there’s no need to squeeze with the crowds.
The beaches along Da Nang face the east and make for pretty sunrises. Besides the hotel beach fronts, there is a also a long stretch of public beach which is accessible by everyone.

The city itself isn’t that large by Asian standards and is pretty compact. A short 15 minutes drive will get you anywhere in the city. But with a population of 1.5 million people and still expanding at a rapid rate, this former French colonial port is now a modern looking city. And sadly it looks kind of the same as any other Asian city to me. However, it does have some unique attractions inside the city that you could spend your time on besides just hanging out on the beach.

There are 2 very unique structures in the city that will definitely catch your attention.

The first is the Dragon Bridge. This is one of the several bridges that span the Han River. At 666m long and with its Chinese dragon design, you can’t miss this unique looking bridge. Besides looking like a dragon, the bridge also breathes fire like a dragon! If you want to catch the fire breathing dragon show, then be at the head of the bridge at 9pm every Saturday and Sunday.

The Dragon Bridge looks especially beautiful at night because of the changing colours of the lights along it’s body.
A good lookout point is the Lover’s Bridge located near the head end of the Dragon Bridge. You can see this statue which somehow reminds me of the Merlion in Singapore.
Somehow, every city has to have a Lovers Bridge. Besides the heart shaped lamps, you can buy love locks and lock them onto the railings of the bridge to declare your undying love for each other.
I found myself coming to this building which is built like a cruise ship. There is a restaurant here which I got myself a dinner and a view of the river and city lights.
The night scene along the Han River is rather nice.
By 8pm I had made my way up to the bridge. It was already getting crowded with people waiting along the sides of the road for the show to start. The fire breathing only happens at the dragon’s head. Duh! So don’t go to the tail end.
By 9pm the whole bridge was jam packed with people. And traffic had come to a near stand still as the 3 lanes on each side of the bridge had reduced to a single lane with mostly motorcycles parked along the side.
So the dragon does really belch fire. There were several rounds of fire breathing which raise the excitement of the crowd.
Followed by a few rounds of water spraying out of the dragon’s mouth. The spray does travel really far and depending on the wind direction, you could get very wet. The Vietnamese consider it good luck to be doused by the dragon’s spit, so go get wet!

The second thing that will definitely catch your eye is the very huge Ferris wheel which is easily one of the tallest structures in the city. You can see it from almost anywhere in the city.

The huge Ferris wheel which can be seen day and night from almost all of Da Nang. This is how it looks from the Dragon Bridge at night.

The Ferris wheel is one of the rides inside the Sunworld Asia Park. This is an amusement park which features themes from the surrounding Asian countries. Its open daily from 3.00pm until 10.00pm which is fine by me, as it gets really hot during the day. I chose my visit to coincide with sunset so that I could get a sunset view from the wheel.

Tickets to enter the park costs VND 200,000 at the moment, including a ride on the Ferris wheel and other rides. If you just want to ride the Ferris wheel only, then you can just pay VND 100,000 instead. I understand that prices are low now because of Covid. When I was there, the park wasn’t crowded and many of the stalls were closed. I’m not sure if it was because of Covid and there weren’t that many tourists.

The most popular ride in the park is the Ferris wheel. It’s called the Sunwheel. It takes around 20 minutes for the full ride.
I would say sunset is the best time to ride the Sunwheel as its not so hot, and you can get fantastic sunset views from the cabin. At the highest point, you will be around 115m above the ground which is around the height of a 25 storey building.
Here are the Marble Mountains in the distance. They are another local attraction in Da Nang which I will touch on later.
The local sports center and the brightly lit area to right of it is one of the local night markets called Helios Market where you can get some local street food.
A view of the Han River with the many bridges that cross over, connecting the two sides of the city. You can see the Dragon Bridge in the middle.
I managed to get a nice long exposure shot of the Sunwheel. It definitely looks much prettier at night.

Marble Mountains

The Marble Mountains are outside of Da Nang city and consists of several limestone hills sticking out of the ground. You will find many stone carving factories with shops around the area carving and selling marble statues, furniture and souvenirs. The best time to visit is probably in the early morning as it’s cooler and you will have the place to yourself before the tourist buses come in.

There are a total of 5 hills in the area, but only one of them is opened to tourists. This also happens to be the largest one called Mt Thuy, or the Water Mountain. The 5 hills are named after the 5 elements of earth, fire, wood, metal and water. They may look like typical karst mountains that you see elsewhere, but during the French colonial period, French geologists realized that the hills were actually made of marble and the name has stuck ever since.

You can climb the steep stairs to the top of the hill or if you are like me, just pay VND 15,000 to take the elevator to the top. It’s a 50m climb to the top.
The whole hill is covered with temples, shrines and caves.
Along the way, you can see elaborately carved and decorated statues. The whole place has an ancient and mystical look to it.

The Marble Mountains has a long history from the time of the Vietnamese emperors to the Vietnam War. Long used as a Buddhist sanctuary, the caves also served as forward bases for Vietnamese revolutionaries during the French colonial war, and were used by the Americans during the Vietnam War as a garrison base.

Even if you took the elevator to the top, there’s still a lot of climbing of steep stone stairs to get around.
There are a couple of smaller caves serving as shrines.
The main attraction is Huyen Khong Cave and here is the entrance to the cave’s mouth.
It’s a large cave with holes in the roof giving it a mystical look with sunlight coming into the cave. If you come in the afternoon when the Sun is overhead, you can see beams of light shining into the cave.
The cave can easily fit several shrines and a temple building in it. It was also very humid inside and my camera lenses were fogging up constantly.

You can take the elevator up to the top and come down via Gate 1 by stone stairs, which is what I did. However, there’s still a lot of climbing of steep stone stairs to get around the hill top. Needless to say, my leg muscles were aching and sore for the rest of the trip after all that climbing.

Son Tra

If you are sick of the city and want a bit of nature, then north of Da Nang is the Son Tra Peninsula. It’s a nature reserve and is also known as Monkey Mountain due to the large numbers of wild macaques living there. You will also find the very exclusive (and expensive) resort of Intercontinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula here. The best part is that Son Tra is just 15-20 minutes by car or motorbike from the center of Da Nang, so you don’t have to travel far to get here.

The most outstanding attraction here is the Linh Ung Pagoda which features a huge Goddess of Mercy statue which can be seen even from the beaches of Da Nang. It looks like the Goddess of Mercy but the Vietnamese call it the Lady Buddha.

Many pilgrims come here to pray at the Linh Ung Pagoda. The top of the statue is over 100m high and is the tallest in Vietnam.
When I visited, the place was crowded with local tourists.
There’s also a pagoda here but it seems to be closed to visitors. Here you can also find a sleeping Buddha statue.
The temple complex is surrounded by forests and actually is quite a nice place to relax.
A beautiful view of the Goddess of Mercy with the city of Da Nang in the background. You can also see the coastal road that runs through the Son Tra Peninsula.
The beach along Da Nang has been over developed with rows of hotels running along it. I could also see a lot of abandoned hotels in different stages of construction due to the Covid19 pandemic which has drastically cut tourism here for the last 2 years.
Along the coast of Son Tra you will also see more secluded beaches. You will need your own transport like a car or motorcycle to access these.
I didn’t see many monkeys along the road, despite the Monkey Mountain name. Most of them live in the deeper parts of the forest. I did see these cute monkey design barriers along the road near Intercontinental Hotel though.

There are a few more local attractions in Son Tra that I didn’t visit this time, like the giant Banyan tree is which is said to be more than a 1,000 years old.

Ba Na Hills

You must have seen pictures of a golden bridge held up by 2 huge hands recently in social and main stream media. If you ever wondered where this bridge is located, look no further. It’s here in the mountains near Da Nang. To be exact, the bridge is actually inside a theme park called Sunworld which is a surprise to many people.

To get there, its a roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour’s drive from Da Nang to the base of the mountain where you will find the cable car station. You will then have to buy your entrance ticket to visit the theme park. I paid VND 850,000 and this includes the cable car ride up and down the mountain, as well as, connecting cable car rides while you are at the top of the mountain. There are also combo tickets which includes lunch.

The main entrance to Ba Na Hills and the cable car station is here. The sales of the tickets is also done here. After buying your tickets, you can proceed straight to the cable car, but not before passing through a replica of an ancient palace and old Hoi An.
There are 4 different cable car routes. But when I was there, only 2 routes were in operation. They claim that this is the longest cable car ride covering more than 5.8km. You can see all the way to Da Nang and the coast in clear skies.
The weather can change up in the mountain. Although it was just cloudy at the base, it was foggy and raining at the top of the mountain.
I arrived at Marseille station after a long cable car ride of almost 20 minutes. You will be 1,485m above sea level, so the temperature here is much cooler than ground level.
If you want to see the Golden Bridge first then take the cable car to Marseille Station. My visit to Ba Na Hills was the second day of constant rain due to a tropical storm off the coast of Vietnam. So my first view of the Golden Bridge was foggy with strong winds and a drizzle. Not the kind of day you want to spend in the open.
Everyone was determined to have their Instagram moment despite the wind and rain.
From Marseille Station, there is a connecting cable car to Louvre Station where the French Village is. This is a theme park in the design of a medieval French village, complete with castles, taverns and a scaled down Notre Dame. You’ll even find a Mercure Hotel here.

Ba Na Hills was a hill top resort for the French colonialists to escape the hot and humid weather of the coast. But now it has been turned into a French medieval theme park. I guess if you can’t erase your colonial history, then let’s make money out of it.

With realistic looking replica gargoyles and medieval architecture, you’ll never guess that this isn’t in Paris.
It seems that the French Village and Golden Bridge is a popular place to take wedding photos. After all, why go to Europe if Europe can come to you.
Its a mish mash of European designs here. I could see Greek and Italian statues and there’s even a German beer garden, all in a French medieval village.
There is a fantasy land and amusement park which is free to enter with the standard ticket.
The Free Fall ride in the amusement park seems to be the most thrilling ride around there.
Finally when I was leaving to go back to Da Nang after lunch, the weather started to clear giving me a good look at the Golden Bridge from the cable car.

I guess that Ba Na Hills could be fun for a day trip if the weather is good. They were busy expanding the park with construction of new buildings when I was there. So I think there will be new attractions in future. But if you think that faux medieval European villages turned theme parks is cultural appropriation then you might want to give this place a miss.

Danang Beachside Brewery

You’ll be spoilt for choice in Da Nang for food. So here’s a shout out to the Danang Beachside Brewery which is run by an acquaintance of mine. It’s a restaurant and micro brewery with a sustainability focus.

Located at the northern end of Danang’s beach, right next to Son Tra, is this cool looking restaurant. As you can see, it was still raining even after I got back from Ba Na Hills.
The first floor where you can find a micro brewery. My friend says this is where they do experiments to try new craft beer flavours. They do their actual volume brewing in a larger brewery in Da Nang’s countryside.
The second floor with the cool looking void where you can look down on the brewing equipment.
And finally the Bohemian looking third floor which overlooks the sea. There’s an open area where we could have barbeques.
How they try to achieve zero waste by upcycling the waste from the beer brewing process into food items.
Bread and pizza dough which is actually made from waste beer grains. It’s quite delicious too!
The range of beers for tasting is amazing.
Craft beers never looked so tasty.

So if you are in Da Nang and are looking for some delicious craft beers and food, do visit this place. Here’s their address: 79 Lương Hữu Khánh, Thọ Quang, Sơn Trà, Đà Nẵng 550000, Vietnam. They are open everyday, 3pm-11pm, except Mondays.

Getting Around in Da Nang

Moving around in Da Nang is quite easy. If you are a resident of South East Asia, you’d probably have the Grab app installed on your smartphone. You can use Grab to book a car or motorcycle taxi to bring you anywhere in the city. In fact, my hotel’s concierge told me that taxis usually over charge and using Grab with the fares fixed before you get on board is the best way not to get cheated.

For longer distances to Ba Na Hills or the Marble Mountains, you will have to book a car which charges by per trip. Check with your hotel if they can arrange transport, or there are numerous companies offering transport services online.

If you are adventurous and can ride a motorcycle, there are numerous motorbike rental shops offering motorcycle rentals for a few dollars a day. Do note that you need a motorcycle license from your home country to ride a motorcycle in Vietnam, although numerous tourists are riding illegally without any valid licenses since most of the rental shops don’t bother to check.

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