With many hidden beaches, great affordable restaurants, and a contrast of city buzz and small beach town that is irresistible; Da Nang is rapidly becoming Vietnam’s most recent destination to come into the limelight, and it is easy to see why. However, what the city has to offer is mostly being ignored.
Often, when you hear of Da Nang, or when people speak of Da Nang, the city’s neighbour Hoi An will soon follow suit. A wave of yellow and blue, the quaint streets and bustling beachside homestays of Hoi An collectively makes one of the top destinations in the country, if not the world. Millions of visitors walk through its Ancient Town each year.
Despite the increasing number of yellow and blue coffee shops and restaurants that are appearing across Da Nang, the two cities have little in common. However, both deserve an equal amount of time when visiting Central Vietnam: from the Old World atmosphere of Hoi An to vast open, modern streets of Da Nang’s beachside, appearance only scratches the surface of how they differ.
As I like to take my sweet time while travelling, I would recommend visiting Da Nang for 4 or 5 days – you may find that you need more time! On a sunny day, it can be impossible to leave the beach, and on a cloudy day, the majority of the below activities will not be up to their full potential.
Son Tra Peninsula & Lady Buddha
Lined with a series of beaches, evil monkeys in the trees, and beautiful yet slightly dangerous hiking opportunities, Son Tra Peninsula dominates much of Da Nang’s skyline and offers commanding views of the city that can stretch across to Hoi An’s Cua Dai port on a clear day and to the Hai Van Pass on the other side.
Exploring Son Tra is something that you will never tire of, from the steep ascent to the highest peak of the mountain to the hidden resorts that offer a luxury afternoon by the pool for less than $5, the solitude of nature and creaking sounds of insects alone will sweep you off your feet, not to mention the views.
Lady Buddha is a spectacular monument to the Goddess of Mercy, that so happens to be one of the largest in Asia, with Son Tra has its backdrop and Da Nang as its forefront.
The temple is often busy with hoards of tourists that come for the many photo opportunities it presents, however, at lunchtime you’ll find it is quite quiet as the temperature can be somewhat overwhelming. If the heat doesn’t bother you too much, this is the best time to visit, the peaceful tranquillity of the temple and the sweeping views are a match made in heaven.
Hai Van Pass
An exhilarating driving experience with some of the most astounding views across the ocean and into Da Nang, the Hai Van Pass is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, as made famous by the British TV Show, Top Gear.
As you progressively ascend, you’ll be met by trickling waterfalls, hair-pin bends and several lookout points that offer a rewarding compensation for your efforts, not forgetting the odd cow or goat that likes to find a comfortable spot on the roadside. Finishing in Lang Co, where you can take a refreshing dip at the quiet beach, you have the option to continue to Hue or turn back through the pass.
The Hai Van Pass deserves a slow and leisurely pace, not only because the roads are tricky and steep but because there are so many opportunities to stop and enjoy the azure waters, green mountains, empty train tracks and steep valleys, that together with a hazy mist, will blow you away.
My Khe Beach
Spreading itself across 32 kilometres of Da Nang’s coast (or 20 miles, respectively), My Khe is known for being where the American’s landed during the war. Despite this negative reminder of the past, My Khe Beach has to be one of the most beautiful and largest expanses of white sand and crystalline waters in Vietnam.
There are plenty of sunbeds where you can hide in the shade on a blistering hot day for 50,000 VND (about $2), however, if you wish to be left in peace, away from tourists, there are palm trees that offer a quiet retreat from the sun at several intervals as you begin to head towards Hoi An.
In Summer, the waters are relatively calm and warm, where you can swim as often or as little as you wish, a welcome respite from the high temperatures that Da Nang reaches. However, swimmers should be wary that they may occasionally be accompanied by giant jellyfish, which is a rare sight but not uncommon.
Fear not, the locals will sweep them away to make up a delicious salad. You can call me crazy if you want, but if you aren’t squeamish when it comes to textures, you’ll love it.
The waves are strongest during the winter; from October to March, when My Khe attracts many practicing and experienced surfers and boarders to its waters. Although sunshine is a rare sight at this time of year, when you can go to the beach, swimming is difficult and almost not worth the effort.
Waterfalls and Natural Pools
A haven for the adventurous, as Da Nang neighbours Bach Ma National Park and numerous mountain ranges, there are many waterfalls and springs to be found. Your adventure can be done in half a day or a full day, depending on how far you wish to drive and how much time you have to explore.
Trying to find these waterfalls and pools yourself sometimes it isn’t that easy. Much of this part of the country is not popular with tourists yet and there are no signs so it is advised to hire a guide or ask at your accommodation if they know anyone who can accompany you. You may even find a local or expat who is willing to take you along!
Prepare some sturdy, comfortable shoes, snacks and water, just in case.
A series of mountains named after the five elements, Marble Mountains are a 10-minute drive from the tourist area of the city. The one accessible mountain, Mount Thuy, is home to a series of caves and a beautiful temple that looks out across Da Nang, reached by ascending 156 steps to the main temple.
While the mountain is incredibly busy throughout the day with large tourist groups, Marble Mountain is best enjoyed between 5 and 6 pm, just as the sun is setting. There is a tower at the highest point that provides unrivalled sunset views, a rare find in this eastward facing city.
Have you visited Da Nang? What was your favourite part? Let me know!