Da Nang: The City of Neon Lights
Da Nang is a fast-paced, colourful city that lies 100 kilometers south of Hue. Despite boasting a vibrant esplanade, cheap hotels and some of the best beaches in the world, Da Nang seems to go largely unnoticed by many tourists visiting Vietnam. In fact, the only reason we decided to go to Da Nang was because we were looking for a stopover between Hue and Hoi An. We didn’t really expect much from the city.
However, when we arrived, we were overwhelmed by the energy of the city and would recommend spending a few nights there to break up your journey and enjoy this rapidly developing place.
The Dragon Bridge
The main attraction in Da Nang is the Dragon Bridge which rises high over the Han River. This beast of a construction was built in 2013 to symbolize the fierce development occurring in the once quiet city.
This attraction has breathed fire into the city’s economy; it’s a massive 666m long and connects much of Da Nang with the International Airport.
The dragon itself is quite spectacular, each ‘wave’ in the dragon’s back is a separate arch on the bridge, and the entire structure changes colour, arch by arch, every 2 or 3 minutes. But that’s not all! In addition to this, every Saturday and Sunday night, the dragon spits fire and water in an epic show that both tourists and locals flock to.
There are many street vendors who set up shop on the sidewalk with perfect views of the bridge. They provide seating for all customers so you can sit back and enjoy the show with a fresh coconut in your mitts!
A word of warning: if you are standing on the bridge at the time of said fire-breathing, expect to get wet as the water breathed out by the inevitably falls down on spectators below.
Also: We were unable to witness the dragon breathing fire. This was, apparently, due to the death of Vietnam’s president just days before our arrival in the country. Perhaps the performance team considered it disrespectful to put on such a colourful display after the tragic event.
The esplanade along the aforementioned Han River is all bright neon lights. Every bar, hotel and every boat and bridge on the river lights up after dusk with flashing reds, greens and yellows. In fact, the same can be said about almost every part of the city – it’s a colourful conglomeration of big businesses.
A walk along this esplanade will really give you a sense that you are in the fifth largest city in one of the most densely populated countries in Asia!
Da Nang also has a thriving culinary scene and if you take a few steps back from the main drag, you’ll come across plenty of open-air restaurants that are always packed with locals chowing down on some freshly caught (or chosen from the live tanks they have in store) seafood.
Getting around the city is super cheap and a taxi from our hotel, located near beach, to the Dragon Bridge cost a little over $1.
One of the first things you notice as you drive through Da Nang is the copious amounts of palm trees. They line the idyllic beaches and give shade to those enjoying a fresh coconut or cocktail at many of the seaside bars.
The soft sand beneath them stretches down to the cool and refreshing water of the South China Sea. Many hotels are just a hop, skip and a jump away from this oasis. So if it’s morning strolls along the beach or an afternoon frolic in the waves or even a cheeky cocktail to wash down a Vietnamese sunset, head to either My Khe Beach and Non Nuoc Beach.
A bustling tourist spot, Marble Mountain is one of five mountains that stand on the outskirts of Da Nang. The five mountains are each named after one natural element; Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth) but Thuy is referred to as marble mountain because it’s the most popular amongst visitors and by many accounts, it is the only hill officially open for climbing.
A taxi ride from the city center will only cost about 4,5$ and takes about 10 minutes. The mountain itself is really quite striking as it rises up from the flatlands below. It is surrounded by shops selling marble sculptures of all shapes and sizes, ranging from small Buddhas to giant lions.
Despite what you might read elsewhere, the climb is not difficult. It’s sheer but short and can really be described as a few series of steep staircases (156 in total).
You pay for your ticket at the bottom (20,000 if you want to climb and 90,000 if you want to take the lift, although the lift only goes to the second of three levels) and begin your upward journey.
The first staircase takes about 3 minutes to conquer and will see you on the first level where a few nice spots await you; Linh Ung Pagoda, Tang Chon Caves with microbats, Buddha statues. It’s nothing spectacular, but quite serene.
The next segment of stairs takes you higher, and you start to see some really nice views of the city and beaches below.
The highest level has a small cave, Van Thong Cave, that you can enter and actually climb through (if you’re small enough!) to reach a rocky outcrop at one of the highest points on the mountain. The climb is slippery and this view point can be reached via a set of stairs if you are a bit anxious about crawling through a cave.
There is also a larger cave, Huyen Khong Cave, that you need to walk down into. This place is really special and has a lot of significance for Vietnamese people in terms of religion and their struggle during the American War.
There are lots of pagodas and viewpoints on this mountain, but there are also quite a few hidden nooks and crannies so it is well worth climbing every set of stairs and going down every track to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
If you’re lucky like we were, you will be approached by a small group of school children who are looking to practice their English. They will politely ask you if they can chat with you for a few minutes and then ask you various questions about your background, your travels through Vietnam and anything else that pops into their heads.
This happened to us three times at Marble Mountain. The third time, the young boy, about 10 years old, realized that we had already been ‘interviewed’ and offered us a tour of Huyen Khong Cave. His English was fantastic. He joked with us, explained Vietnamese traditions in detail and expressed his personal opinion about some of these traditions. It was an informative and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
We were limited for time in Da Nang and didn’t even get to see half of what is on offer. You could easily stretch your stay here over 3 or 4 days and not run out of things to do. After you’ve had your fill of sunbaking, bright lights and fire-breathing dragons, you can check out the Son Tra Peninsula, Da Nang Cathedral, Cao Dai Temple and many more!
How We Got to Da Nang
Heading south, we arrived in Da Nang from Hue. As there were three of us, we hired a private car through our hotel in Hue and cruised along the Han Van Pass in airconditioned comfort. The journey can be done on bus at a cheaper price, but we wanted to stop and enjoy the spectacular views along the way so we opted for the slightly pricier mode of transport.
Check out our post on the Han Van Pass (coming soon, subscribe so you don’t miss out) for more information.
Where We Stayed in Da Nang
We stayed in a budget-friendly but satisfactory hotel called iCloud Hotel. It was within walking distance of the My Khe beach, close to many western-style and local restaurants and only a $1 taxi ride (about 30 minutes’ walk) from the Dragon Bridge.
The owners were friendly and the room was clean and comfortable. We would recommend this option for the budget traveler who wants something a little more private than a dorm room. We booked using booking.com. See HERE to find out why we love booking.com and how you can BOOK NOW for your trip in Da Nang, Vietnam.