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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.