Da Nang, a city on the sea, is a mixture of isolated beaches, picteresque mountains, rich ancient history, and one of the friendliest groups of people in Viet Nam. It’s quiet sandy beaches of the South China Sea, juxtaposition the city lifestyle, making Da Nang a unique Vietnamese city not to be missed.
Located between the old town of Hoi An, the holy land of My Son and the historical city of Hue, expect a city deep in ancient heritage, but at the same time, offering a tropical haven for those who just want to relax. Da Nang is halfway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh cities, built around old army bases of the American-Vietnam war.
Non Nuoc Beach
Shellshocked from the effects of the American-Vietnam War, Da Nang’s beaches now offer unspoilt sands, and clear (clean!) waters. Visit during the day, when the beach is literally deserted from locals at work and school, with the very rare tour bus. At evenings (4pm onwards), teenage boys flock to play football on the sand, while young couples visit after dark to quietly cuddle by the moonlight. If you travel directly east from the Han River bridge, you will hit Da Nang’s main beach, Non Nuoc. A taxi will take you there for around 30,000 Dong, while a xe om (motorbike taxi) should take you for half that – just be clear and concise with your prices.
Son Tra Peninsula
Son Tra Peninsula is a large mountaineous range of 30 sq km of forest, and 300 different types of plants. It now offers a quiet getaway spot for visitors to Da Nang, still unexploited by tourists, despite interest for major development under planning. An ideal way to explore this area, is by motorbike, where you can travel the windy roads further and further up the mountain, and take in breathtaking views of the entire city, it’s beaches and more. If your hungry, follow one of the many signs off the main road and you’ll be sure to find food or drink. You can park your motorbike for 1000 Dong, and they will walk you down to the beach, with private tables, chairs and hammocks. Take a dictionary with you, because there is absolutely no English. Providing magnificent panoramas, Son Tra Peninsula is the perfect way to spend a half a day while in Da Nang. It’s poetic views of Da Nang, Hoi An and further, present an opportunity that not many other tourists take advantage of. The peace and quiet will be a much needed break from the noise that the Vietnamese roads offer.
Nui Ngu Hanh Son, or the Marble Mountains, are made up of 5 different mountains, each representing a different element: metal, wood, fire, water and earth. Take good walking shoes, as you will be walking up hundreds of carved steps, and taking in more breathtaking views over Da Nang. Inside the mountains, are home to many small Buddhist sanctuaries, within large caves and numerous tunnels. The mountains contain both marble and limestone, which will be evident when you see stonecutter shops selling everything from small souvenir Buddhas, to giant carved lions. The mountains provide a great opportunity to learn more about Viet Nam’s buddhist history, and the land surrounding Da Nang.
Why Not Go
Backpackers and people who want to party, party and party will not enjoy Da Nang as there is minimal nightlife here.
Being one of the least developed major cities in Vietnam, Da Nang is still relatively small, and it doesn’t have the ancient charm seen in Hoi An or Hanoi. If you like big cities and the “wow”factor of a new city, Da Nang is not for you.
People who enjoy the outdoors and beaches will adore Da Nang. It’s beaches stretch for miles, and during the day, totally deserted. Son Tra Peninsula is the perfect place for some photography of the city and the beaches.
Older travellers who like some more peace and quiet compared to other cities in Vietnam, will enjoy Da Nang. It is not overflocked by young travellers, and there are hotels along the beach away from the main roads.
Best Time to Visit
Wet Season is from August to December and dry season from January to July. Avoid the wet season as much as possible, as rains are very heavy. All throughout the year it will rain, even during the dry season it may rain for 20 minutes, so be sure to pack an umbrella.
Visiting from January to May is the best, when rains are low. The heat really kicks in in June, but will still be warm enough to enjoy the outdoors and the beach.
Where to Stay
Budget on the Beach: Hoa’s Place (215/14 Huyen Tran Cong Chua St, China Beach, T: (0511) 3969 216 ) provides rooms cheaper than $10 US a night. Rooms are small, and not the most comfortable, but the service and hospitality provided can far exceed more expensive hotels. Hoa is fluent in English and will take care of your needs, while his wife cooks communal meals at 7pm each night.
High-End on the beach: Furama Resort was built over 10 years ago, and is the best resort operating in Da Nang. All the amenities of a 5 star resort, plus the waterfall pool with private beach is stunning. Food served from the restaurant and pool side menu is good, but extremely expensive for it’s quality. A popular hotel for business groups, and provides a free shuttle to Hoi An and Da Nang.
You can choose to stay in the city centre if you are only there for 1 day, or in transit. If you wish to maximise your stay in Da Nang, it is best to stay near or on the beach, where you have access to the one of the best views and best beaches in Vietnam.
Where & What to Eat
Bread of Life: Most of the staff here are deaf, and Bread of Life is involved with all sorts of charity programs within the local community. Owned and run by an American couple, the food served here is fantastic, and not too pricey either, with some profits going to charity.
Christie’s Cool Spot: Local expat hangout, pub downstairs, restaurant upstairs. Come here for an extensive menu of food, Vietnamese, Western, Japanese, fast food and everything else. They have a huge cocktail list, lovely wait staff, and prices aren’t bad either.
Apsara Restaurant: Popular Vietnamese restaurant, but usually packed with Vietnamese customers on weekends. Lots of seafood, popular in Da Nang, being so close to the beach. They have authentic Vietnamese performances of dance and music, but don’t come here if you want quiet and peace while you’re eating.
On the Beach: If you want an authentic Vietnamese experience, sit down at one of the many small food stalls set up literally on the sand of Non Nuoc beach. Take your phrase book with you and translate the tens of fish offered on the menu, or just point at something that looks interesting and hope for the best. No English is spoken, but make sure you establish the price if you don’t get a menu. You will be spoilt for choice, plus given comfortable beach lounge chairs.
Local food is different in Da Nang to cities as close as Hue. Local specialty “Mi Quang” is a very famous noodle breakfast dish. Da Nang has the variety of all Vietnamese cities. You can find “Chao” from Southern Vietnam, “Pho” from Hanoi, and “Bun Bo Hue” from Hue.
Christie’s Cool Spot – local pub hangout for locals. Mainly male-dominated pub, an extensive drinks list, and friendly staff.
Bamboo 2 Bar – the other hangout for expats. Western music, pool table, seating in and out, and a chance to speak with other foreigners. Small bar, but given your lack of choice, this is really it.
My to do List
1. walk along the beach at dawn/dusk
2. Motorbike up Son Tra Peninsula and take in the views.
3. Eat fresh seafood on the beach.
4. Say hello to the many teenagers smiling eagerly at you on the street.
5. Take the trip from Da Nang to Hue or vice versa via the Hai Van Pass.
6. Eat the local Mi Quang dish
Da Nang has an International Airport only a few minutes from the city centre. There are only a few international flight services operating from Asiana Airlines, SilkAir & Korean Air. Most travellers fly into Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city, and travel either north or south.
Domestic flights travel from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh to/from Da Nang via Jetstar Airlines and Vietnam Airlines. If you get in early, you can get a flight as low as 300,000 Dong travelling Hanoi to/from Da Nang.
Beware of taxis at Da Nang airport scouting for foreigners to travel direct from Da Nang to Hoi An city. Many taxi’s will not take you on metre alone, and charge you $10 just to get to Da Nang city which is only 5 minutes away. Use the Mai Linh taxi group (green and white), insist on paying in Dong, and only using the metre.