Jan 12-16, 2015
Backpacking Da Nang, Vietnam
GPS waypoint: 16°03'40.1"N 108°13'32.6"E
Location: Da Nang City, Central Vietnam
I and Tuyen, my Vietnamese traveling partner, would have taken the bus to Da Nang from Hanoi to save up, but the thought of another 16-hour confinement on a bus was a little unsettling. With cheap flights from Hanoi,it was better to fly. We allotted 9 days for the 3 destinations - Da Nang, Hue and Hoi. An After a 1:15-hour flight, we landed in Da Nang Airport, only 10 mins from the city center.
Da Nang Heads-Up
Da Nang is the big port city in Central Vietnam lying half-way between Hanoi and Saigon. It has been voted one of the top 15 world destinations by the New York Times. With Da Nang, you also get to visit its neighbors Hue and Hoi An, both designated Unesco World Heritage Sites. Other travelers who were just passing by find themselves taking up permanent residency. Da Nang is clean, spread out, organized and relatively cheap. It's buildiing up like the rest of Vietnam, particularly with the big multi-national resort chains and hotels who are developing the beach front areas. Food in Da Nang is famous and authentic, specially seafood dishes whether they be soup noodle, a rice topping or a viand on its own.
My Khe Beach
Da Nang is huge on foot so we decided to stay in My Khe Beach first to get a sense of the beach life. There are no beggars here and no lottery people whose persistence could at times be annoying. With the cold weather in the north, it was a relief to walk around town in shorts again, but it wasn't warm enough for a swim at the beach. My Khe Beach is a long stretch of fine white sand with hardly any big hotel except for Holiday Beach (logo looks like Holiday Inn). It made for a nice walk. The area itself is sparsely populated with very light traffic. There is a cluster of restos and bars behind Holiday Beach where that gets active at night, but there seems little else besides that. It was difficult to get a rental bike in this area. A casual talk with Anthony, a Filipino entrepreneur running La Oliva Resto and Bar, who has taken up residency here, revealed that people who stay along My Khe Beach area are mostly expats who own businesses in the city center, which is only about 4 kilometers away. Da Nang 4 years ago was practically empty but now, signs of an upswing, like most of Vietnam, is evident. He said that speculating in land there at this point is a good idea.
After 2 days, we moved to the city center at Sanouva Hotel - a plush boutique hotel located in the heart of the city. I'm glad the decision-makers found value in what I was putting on the table to accept my barter deal. You walk out its doors and the city is right in front of you. The hotel is tastefully done with cheerful and pleasant staff. They offered compli bikes to guests! Whoa...I like that a lot. The bikes were well-maintained compared to most rentals. Buffet breakfast was included in the room. Our very comfortable stay in this hotel made our trip to Da Nang convenient and memorable to say the least. I would highly recommend this hotel.
Life in the City Center
With bicycles, Tuyen and I covered more ground exploring the eats of the city. She took care of where we eat, what we eat, etc. It makes a world of difference traveling with someone who knows the language and culture. Mostly, we would eat in "quans" - residential houses who open up their ground floor as a restaurant. It's an ideal compromise - it's more sanitized than street food, it's authentic as only locals frequent it, and it doesn't cost you the price of a touristy restaurant. Altogether, we ate the best food cheap money could buy.
Ride across Thuan Phuoc Bridge
A big draw in Da Nang is the giant statue of Lady Buddha which was a good 8km away. Going there, Tuyen and I rode our bikes through the longer and more elevated Thuan Phuoc Bridge - 1,850 meters long and 18 meters wide. From the top of the bridge, we could see Da Nang Harbour, the breadth of the river and the city of Da Nang itself. The ride to the bridge was already an awesome trip all to itself.
Bodhisattva of Mercy, aka the Lady Buddha, is a white marble statue that towers 67 (65? 72?) meters on the slope of Monkey Mountain. Her statue could be seen for miles as far as Hoi An on a clear day. It is perched on an elevation overlooking the open ocean - something similar to Rio de Janiero's Christ the Redeemer. The elevation offers a stunning view. The area has a series of statues of saintly persons, or arahants (people who have become enlightened but did not attain Buddhahood). The place was flocked to by tourists, mostly on coaches or motorbikes.
Late Night Lounge Music at Tieng Duong Lam
When Tuyen last visited Da Nang, she went to a lounge music bar where singers take turns singing Vietnamese classics. We found ourselves in the same place and listened to laid-back ballad style music that was just soothing to the senses. People would give a rose to singers they like while the singer was performing on stage. It was a validating gesture the singers appreciated more than the monetary exchange of the rose. The singers can then exchange the rose with management for its assigned value. I thought it was both brilliant and useful. The singers sang one after another rendering their own version of oldies and some new popular Western hits. It was a relaxing mood night.
Off to Hue
I like Da Nang. It didn't offer the bells and whistles of other destinations but it's a good feeling that grows on you. I don't mind staying here a much longer time, but Da Nang was our initial stop to exploring Central Vietnam. After having stayed a few days, it was time to pack-up again and go to the fabled land of the Vietnam kings - Hue!
backpacker places (US$1 = Vietnamese Dong VND 21,345 = Php 44.02 as of Jan. 29, 2015)
- 1.5 liter drinking water
- one hour body massage
- banh mi (baguette sandwich)
- noodle soup with meat
- bicycle rental, 1 day (not readily available)
- sleeper bus to Da Nang from Hanoi (as of 2012)
- dorm bed
- double bed in a fan room, shared toilet
- internet cafe
- taxi from airport to city center by the river
- Jetstar flight from Hanoi to Da Nang (no baggage)
- seafood pasta in a decent restaurant
- Da Nang doesn't seem to have a backpacker area like Bangkok's Khaosan Road. The establishments are spread out within the city but most of them are lined up along the river between Han River Bridge and the Dragon Bridge
- the airport is practically on the edge of the city center about $3 by cab. Taxis from the airport taking you to the city will try to charge you VND 10,000 "airport fee" in addition to your fare. Don't pay it. The passenger coming in to the airport already paid for this. But drivers don't pay this when going out. We were victimized by a MaiLinh taxi in this manner.
- XeOm or moto taxis are cheap and not aggressive
- plane - Jetstar takes you there in 1 hour, 15 mins. Da Nang Airport is just on the outskirt of the city center...about $3 by cab
- bus - a bus may take 15-16 hours from Hanoi's Giap Bat station
- train - the Reunification Express makes a stop in Da Nang
- there are no tuks-tuks in Vietnam but you can rent a motorcycle, take a cab or hire a XeOm single motorcycle
- most of the places within the city center can be reached by foot - recommended as you see more of the city on foot than on a motorbike
- still, the best way to see Da Nang is on a bicycle. VND 50,000, it is not as cheap as Cambodia ($1), but it's still not bad. Or, you can check-in at a hotel that offers it for free - like Sanouva Hotel
- Lady Buddha - a 67m white marble statue on the slope of Monkey Mountain, similar to Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer
- Linh Ung Pagoda - same location as the Lady Buddha. Built in the 18th century and rebuilt by Minh Mang, the second ruler of Vietnam's Nguyen Dynasty
- Cham Museum - world's largest collection of Cham artefacts from the 7th to 15th century
- Danang Museum - free admission. Depicts life in Central Vietnam from 14th century
- Marble Mountains - see marble making at its finest together with an assortment of fine marble handicrafts. You can also explore the area for its many tunnels, caves and grottos
- Monkey Mountain - at 693MASL, it offers a stunning vista of Da Nang. You'll pass by the Lady Buddha on the way to the top
- My Khe Beach - fine white sand beach that stretches all the way along the eastern coast of Da Nang going to Hoi An
- Man Thai Fishing Village - a fishing village still using traditional methods
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- Vietnamese smokers will smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. They also smoke inside hospitals with no smoking signs.
- Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
- internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
- Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
- only Vietnamese Dong is accepted as legal tender (change your dollars into Dong)
- best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
- remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
- ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
- best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
- leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
- when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
- carry only enough cash for your needs that day
- don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
- don't take pictures of military installations
- refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
(31 Jan, 2015) Dude you are like Peter Pan..... always on a new adventure..... except that you are always with the beautiful ladies!
Jan 12-16, 2015
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