DA NANG CITY, VIETNAM
From Hoi An to Da Nang city ( 29 km )
Nowhere in Vietnam is changing as fast as Danang. For decades it had a reputation as a provincial backwater, but big changes are ongoing. Stroll along the Han riverfront and you’ll fing gleaming new modernist hotels, and apartments and restaurants are emerging. Spectacular new bridges now span the Han River, and in the north of the city, the landmark new D-City is rising from the flatlands. Verture south and the entire China Beach strip is blooming with hotel and resort developments.
That said, the city itself still has fre conventional sightseeing spots, except for a very decent museum and a stunningly quirky bridge. So for most travellers, a few days enjoying the city’s beaches, restaurants and nightlife is probably enough. Book an afterdark tour to see Danang at its shrimmering neon-lit best. The city’s street-food scene also deserves close investigation.
Danang also makes a great base for day trips. The city is part of a long thin peninsuala, at the northern tip of which is Nui Son Tra (called Monkey Moutain by Us soldiers). China Beach and the five Marble Moutains lie southwest of the city.
Known during French colonial rule as Tourane, Danang succeeded Hoi An as the most important port in central Vietnam during the 19th century, a position it retains to this day.
As American involvement in Vietnam escalated, Danang was where American combat troops first landed in South Vietnam - 3500 Marines in March 1965. Memorable, they stormed Nam O Beach in full battle gear, only top be greeted by a bevy of ao dai- wearing Vietnamese girls bearing cheerful flower garlands. A decade later, with the Americans and South Vietnamese in full retreat, the scene was very different as desperate civilians fled the city. On 29 March 1975, two truckloads of communist guerrillas, more than half of them women, declared Danang liberated without firing a shot.
Today Danang hosts one of Vietnam’s most vibrant economies, and its often dubbled ‘Silicon City’ due to its booming web sector.
Museum of Cham Scupture
(1 Trung Nu Vuong) This fine museum has the world’s largest collection of Cham artefacts, housed in buildings marrying French-colonial architecture with Cham elements. Founded in 1915 by the Ecole Freancaise d’Ectreme Orient, it displays more than 300 pieces including altars, lingas, garudas, apsaras, Ganeshas and imagines of Shve, Brahma and Vishnu- an dating from the 5th to 15th centuries. To hire an MP3 audio guide, you’ll need to show ID - passport or drivers liencec - or leave a refundable US$50 bond.
The treasures come from Dong Duong (Indrapura), Khuong My, My Son, Tra Kieu and other sites. There are also exhibits focusing on Cham culture today, with contemporary artefacts and photos of the Kate Festival ( the Cham New Year).
Welcome to the biggest show in town every Saturday and Sunday night. At 9pm, this graceful golden-hued bridge spouts fire and water from the dragon’s head near the Han River’s eastern bank. The best places to observe are the various cafes lining the esatern bank to the north of the bridge, and boat trips also depart from Bach Dang on the river’s western bank to make the most of Danang’s after-dark, neonlit spendour.
Cao Dai Temple
This is Central Vietnam’s largest Cao Dai Temple, serving about 50,000 followes. A sign reading van giao nhat ly (all religions have the same reason) hangs bafore the main altar. Behind the gilded letters are the founders of five of the world’s great religions: Mohammed, Laotse, Jesus, a Southeast, Asian-looking Buddha and Confucius. Behind the main altar sits an enormous globe with the Cao Dai ‘divine eye’ symbol.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
(3 Nguyen Van Troi) Despite its huge grounds, this museum is typically unenlightening for a site venerating Ho Chi Minh. At the front is a display of the usual US, Soviet and Chinese weaponry. Hidden behind the Party buildings are a replica of Ho Chi Minh;s house in Hanoi, and the museum.
(Tran Phu Street) Known to locals as Con Ga Church because of the weathercock atop the steeple, the candy-pink Danang Cathedral was built for the city’s French residents in !923. Today it serves a Catholic community of over 4000, and is standing room only if you arive late.
Phap Lam Pagoda
(574 Ong Ich Khiem) This pagoda has three giant Buddha statues in the courtyard, and an equally imposing large gold one in the temple.
(www.danangunplugged.com) These tours-conducted in either a US$ Army jeep or on the back of a motorbike - explore the city’s street-food and after-dark scenes. Other options are sightseeing around town, or a day trip to the Hai van Pass. Look forward to really interesting street-food discoveries for curious travelling foodies.
Danang Food Tour
(www.danangfoodtour.com) Excellent morning and evening explorations of the local food scene by a passionate expatdoodie. Check the website for his great blog on the best of Da Nang.
(www.funtasticdanang.com) Run by the funky young team behind Danang;s Funtastic hostels, with tours including street food and sightseeing. Transport is by car. Check out www.danangcuisine.com for Danang tips by operatoe Summer Ly, a local food blogger who’s been featured in the NY Times.
Meet My Danang
(www.meetmydanang.com) Tours exploring Danang ranging from afterdark river criuses to bar-hoppong and the sity’s spooky ghostly past.
Danang’s restaurant scene is growing more cosmopolitan by the day. Street food is also great here, with copious bun cha (barbecued pork), com (rice), mi quang (noodle soup) stalls. Dedicated foodies should strongly consider booking a food tour to really explore the Danang scene.
Quan com Hue ngon
(65 Tran Quoc Toan)Fab barbecue place, all charcoal smoke and sizzling meats, where you grill your own. There’s a street terrace, and the welcoming English-speaking owner will help with the menu.
Com Tay Cam Cung Dinh
(K254/2 Hoang Dieu) This simple place is good for local dishes, including hoanh thanh. It’s down a little alley.
(www.fatfishdanang.com) This stylish restaurant and louge bar is leading the eating and drinking charge across the river on the Han’s eastern shore. Innocative Asian fusion dishes all pertner with flavour-packed craft beers from Saigon’s Pateur St Brewing. Fatfish is good for a few snacks or a more leisurely full meal.
Book for before 9pm on a Saturday or Sunday night for front-row seats to see the nearby Dragon Bridge to its fiery party trick. Around Fatfish, a new boating marina and boardwalk is being completed, and the area will no doubt develop into Danang’s hottest restaurant precinct.
(www.waterfrontdanang.com) Riverfront louge-cum-restaurant that gets everything right on every level. It works as a stylish bar for a chilled glass of NZ Sauvignon Blanc or an imported beer and also as a destination restaurant for a memorable meal (book the terrace deck for a stunning river vista). The menu feature imported meats, Asian seafood and also terrific ‘gourmet’ sandwiches.
(www.labambino.com) Atmosphere place run by a couple (French husband, Vietnamese wife) who have crafted a great menu that takes in French classics, pub food, barbecued meat and a few Vietnamese favorites. Eat inside or around the pool, and don’t neglect the wine list or the cheese selections, both of which are superb.
(www.madammelan.com) Huge rstaurant in a French colonial-style building, where you can eat in a courtyard or in one of the river-facing dining rooms. The menu has lots of good choices, including squid with chili and salt, and green papaya salad with shrimp and garlic.
Bread of Life
(www.breadoflifedanang.com) Excellent American-style diner-cum-bakery with a good menu of burgers, Mexican food, sandwiches, pizza and pasta. A very good bet for brekkie; the bacon burrito really hits the spot. Run by deaf staff, proceeds go towards training activities for the deaf in Danang.
For a longe-bar-style drink with a view, also check out Waterfront or Fatfish.
(www.facebook.com/lunapubdanang) Half-bar, half-Italian restaurant, this hot hang-out is a cool warehouse-sized space with an open frontage, a DJ booth in the cabin of a truck, cool music, an amazing drinks selection and some shisha, smoking action. Also popular with the epat crowd for its authenic Italian food. Check Facebook for regular live gigs.
(36 Bach Dang) Ubermodern rooftop bar with excellent cocktails, innovative bar snacks and the best after-dark views of Danang’s river and neon-lit bridges. Note there is a smart-casual code - including wearing closed-in shoes - this applies to male visitors.
(1 Bach Dang) The Danang offshoot of Hanoi’s quirky Communist-themed cafes is a top spot for a riverside caffein fix-try the surperb coffee with yoghurt - or a well-priced beer or cocktail later in the day. It can get smoky, so try and grab a seat near the windows.
On the Radio
(www.facebookl.com/ontheradio.bar) Danang’s go-to spot for live music and draughter beer, and a good place to meet younger resident aith a decent grasp of English.
Bamboo 2 Bar
(230 Bach Dang) Sociable, but predictable expat bar with clientele of booze regulars, cheap beer and a busy pool table. A good place to catch live sport on TV.
Agribank (202 Nguyen Chi Thanh) With ATM.
Danang Experience (www.danangexperience.com) Comprehensive website with expat slant but is also good for visitors with eating, drinking and accommodation recommendations.
Danang Family Medical Practice (www.vietnammedicalpractice.com) With in-patient facilities; run by an Australian doctor.
Danang Visitor Centre (www.tourism.danang.vn) Really helpful, with English spoken, and good maps and brochures. Danang’s official tourism website is one of Vietnam’s best.
Hospital C (0511 382 1483; 122 Hai Phong) The most advanced of the tour hospitals in town.
In Danang (www.indanang.com) Danang’s most established expat/ tourist information website.
Main Post Office (64 Bach Dang) Near the Song Han Bridge.
Sinh Tourist (www.thesinhtourist.vn) Books open- tour buses and tours, and offers currency exchange.
Getting There & Away
Danang’s busy airport has many domestic connections and popular international flights to Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Singapore. There are also a growing number of connections to Laos, China, Taiwan and South Korea.
Domestic services to destinations such as HCMC, Hanoi, Haiphong, Dalat, Nha Trang, Can Tho and Haiphong are operated by regional carriers including Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air and Jestar.
Danang’s intercity bus station (0511 382 1265) is 3km west of the city centre. A metered taxi to the riverside will cost around 70,000d.
Buses leave for all major centres, including Quy Nhon .
For Laos, there are daily buses to Savannakhet at 8pm and a daily service to Pakse to the Lao Bao border alone are 150,000; you may have to change buses at Dong Ha.
Yellow public buses to Hoi An travel along Bach Dang. The price is usually posted inside the door if any bus drivers attempt to overcharge.
Sinh Tourist open-tour buses pick up from the company office on Bach Dang Twice daily to both Hue and Hoi An, and can advise on travel to Laos.
Car & Motorcycle
A car to Hoi An costs around 500,000 via your hotel or a local travel agency, while xe om will do it for around 150,000d. Bargain hard if you want to stop at the Marble Moutains or China Beach en route
Danang’s train station (202 Hai Phong) has services to all destinations on the north-south main line
The train ride to Hue is one of the best in the country - it’s worth taking as an excursion in itself.
To/ From the airport
Danang’s airport is 2km west of the city centre. There is no airport bus and a taxi is around 60,000.
Vy Bicycle (www.facebook.com/vy.bicycle; 202 Bach Dang) Handy city-side spot if you wish to hire two wheels and explore the beach area east across the river.
Cycle & Xe om
Danang has plenty of motorbike taxis and cyclo drivers. Trips around town shouldn’t cost more than 35,000
Nui Son Tra (Monkey Mountain)
Jutting out into the sea like a giant pair of Micky Mouse ears, the Son Tra penisula is crowded by the peak that the American soldiers called Monjey Mountain. Overlooking Danang to the south and the Hai Van pass to the north, it was a prized redar and communication base during the American War. Until recently it was a closed military area, but new roads and beach resorts are opening up the peninsula.
The highlight is the view from the summit, which is stupendous on a clear day. All that remains of the American military precence are a couple of radar domes ( still used by the Vietnamese military and a no-go for tourists) next to a helicopter pad, now a lookout point. The steep road to the summit is pretty deserted and road conditions can be iffy. If you’re going in a motorbike, you’ll need a powerful one to make it to the top. The turn-off to this road is about 3km before Tien Sa Port and marked by a blue sign that reads ‘Son Tra Eco-Tourism’.
Most Vietnamese who come here head to one of the beach resorts along the peninsula’s southwestern coast. The other big attraction on the peninsula is Linh Ung, a colossal Buddha statue positioned on a lotus-shaped platform that looks south to Danang city; there’s a monastery here too.
On the other side of Nui Son Tra, next to the port, is sheltered Tien Sa Beach. A memorial near the port commemorates an unfortune episode of colonial history. Spanish-led Filipino and French troops attacked Danang in August 1858, ostensiblyto end Emperor Tu Duc’s mistreatment of Catholics. The city quickly fell, but the invaders werre hit by sickness. By the summer of 1859, the number of invaders who had died of illness was 20 times the number who had been killed in combat.
Many of the tombs of Spanish and French soldiers are below a chapel that’s located behind Tien Sa Port.
Sights & Activities
Just across the Song Han Bridge, My Khe is fast becoming Danang’s easternmost suburb. In the early morning and evening the beach fills up with city folk doing t’ai chi. Tourists emerge during peak sun-tanning hours, while locals prefer the evening. The beach is largely free from hawkers. The water can have a dangerous undertow, especially in winter. However, it’s protected by the bulk of Nui Son Tra and is safer than the rest of China Beach.
My An & Non Nuoc
Much of the central section of China Beach has been parcelaed off for luxury resort developments. The inland side of the coastal road has a scattering of budget hotels between exclusive golf courses designed by the likes of Greg Norman.
Eating and Drinking
Owned by a hip Japanese surer, Burger Bros is a cool spot for the best gourmet burggers in central Vietnam, well-priced beer and terrific French fries.
Top Rooftop Lounge
Go straight to the Top for the best views of the beach’s sprawling are. Cocktails and imported beers all impress tourists and Danang’s smart sete as they jostle for position on the sun lounges, funky cane furniture, or in the infinity pool. After dark, the views become even better, as China Beach’s glittering necklace of neon and lights snarks up.
Tam’s Pub & Surf Shop
A stone’s throw from China Beach, this is a friendly, popular bar-restaurant with pub grub. You can rent boards and get surfing advice here.