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Don’t go to Da Nang, they said. It sucks, they said. But why, I replied?
Of all the backpacker hostel-recommended bus routes up and down the coast of Vietnam, none included Da Nang as a stop. Most went straight from Hué to Hoi An, a smaller city newly popular among backpackers for its custom tailors. Da Nang is about three hours from Hue and one from Hoi An, is the third largest city in Vietnam, and is actually really damn cool. There are gorgeous bridges, a beautiful high-rise dotted skyline that reminded me a lot of a less-developed Miami, and a plenty mountainous areas and beaches near the city craziness that are absolutely gorgeous and a blast to explore.
My dad was based here during the war, so I knew that I wanted to go to Da Nang in advance. I was so surprised to hear people tell me that there wasn’t much to do there, and that it was a skippable stop – it absolutely wasn’t true! Despite hearing not to go, we went anyway.
Here are 9 reasons to ignore the hostels and agents and actually make a good stop in the amazing city of Da Nang:
Big Bustling City
Da Nang is actually the third largest city in Vietnam, after Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. The city is completely alive and bustling with motorbikes, high-rises, and people moving through their days at a fast pace. In such a large city there is so much to discover and so many places to explore. Just driving around the streets was exciting as we debated on what we wanted to do next.
Lots of Shopping
The first thing I noticed when we hit the outskirts of Da Nang on our motorbike were the dozens of big outlet-type shops and stores lining the main roads – all advertising great prices! As we drove around more, we became pretty excited to check out some of them out to try and find some good deals. You could definitely spend a whole day shopping here.
Da Nang is basically set right where the mouth of a river hits the sea, situating the city on either side of a pretty wide river mouth. The 4 or 5 bridges that span this gap are beautiful sights to see- all massive, designed very beautifully.
The most well known in Da Nang is the dragon bridge, which is a bridge with a literal big golden yellow dragon winding through it. If you drive up next to it, you can see that this grandiose metal dragon winds above and below the bridge for its entirety, and it apparently blows fire on weekends. Rad.
It’s Known for its Food
Da Nang is especially known for its amazing food options. There are a few special dishes specifically known to this city, amazing hole-in-the wall Vietnamese places on each corner, and a lot of fancy lantern-clad restaurants with extensive foodie options as well. Most of them give you free unlimited tea as well!! Our hostel gave us great recommendations for the most famous food places to go in the city.
A Great Dose of Culture
Da Nang also has a few museums you can visit if you’d like to get a dose of history and culture. One museum, called the Cham Museum, covers some history and sculpture of indigenous Vietnamese people dating all the way back to the second century. The Historical Museum covers a lot of Da Nang and Vietnam’s history and struggle with the French and Americans, the Ho Chi Minh Museum is popular also with a replica of president Ho Chi Minh’s home, and the Museum of the Fifth Military Zone covers a bit of the Vietnam War and broadcasts a lot of captured planes and military equipment.
Da Nang was a big base during the Vietnam war, but much of it has been built up now. My dad was based here and couldn’t believe the city had grown from dirt roads and shacks to high rises and bridges!
Best of Both Worlds – City and Nature
If you ask me, Da Nang is the best kind of city: Big and bustling, but also really close to beautiful nature and places to get away from the city buzz. It’s like taking the best city vibes of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi and combining them with the best of Vietnam’s coastal cities too. If you drive right out of the enormous city you can get to beautiful beaches and mountains within just a few minutes. So there you have it: options. You are neither stuck in the craziness of a city or a secluded area. You can have either one at any time. 🙂
Beautiful Beaches – China Beach and Da Nang
Da Nang spans over two coastlines and a river. These two coastlines are both home to gorgeous beaches. So it’s not impossible to spend a few hours in the city and then the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the sand under a bamboo umbrella. The best of both Vietnam’s worlds are brought together here! China Beach stretches miles and miles down the cast too so you aren’t spoilt for choice on where to set up.
MANY Mountains to Explore
Not only are there beaches next to the city, but thick jungle-filled mountains as well – all with amazing views.
- Monkey Mountains – The south side of the river mouth opens up into a huge cliffy peninsula known as the ‘monkey mountains.’ My dad actually recommended this place to me because he was based there during the war. We had a huge scooter adventure on the little tiny sidewalk-sized roads that span these mountains, and actually even say a few little monkeys scurrying around! There were some gorgeous resorts, a butterfly reserve, amazing views of the sea, and unreal views of the skyscraper-dotted skyline of Da Nang in the distance. Highly recommended!
- Hai Van Pass – Just north of the city is another mountainous area known as Hai Van Pass. We had to drive through this to get to Da Nang from Hue and had to pull over multiple times sheerly to stop and gape at the views of the windy road slithering along the lush green cliffs, with the ocean lapping up against them. It reminded us of big Sur in California! When you get to the top there are some ruins to explore, and a few places to get gas if you’re worried.
- Marble Mountains – These are a little further south, maybe 30-45 minutes. It’s hard to begin to explain how cool they are! It basically feels like you’re on Tom Sawyer’s island in Disneyland but like, cooler and in real life. They use these mountains to make all kinds of marble statues of all sizes, trinkets, and souvenirs, which you will start seeing sold on the side of the roads when you’re getting close. Up the mountains they have everything made out of marble and pagodas all decked out with glass and porcelain mosaics. There are a few huge Buddhas and statue areas made with white marble. As you continue, you reach a few caves, all of which are temples too. Everything is surrounded by stringy tarzan-like vines and jumangi-like stone structures! The biggest cave you get to just took my breath away – it’s a few hundred feet tall and has a sitting buddha inside literally carved from the stone of the cave! Marble mountains were definitely one of my favorite places
Lady Buddha Statue
Right when you start driving into the Monkey Mountains you get to the spectacular 67 meter-tall white standing lady Buddha statue, opulently guarding the mountains with her presence. In the area there are also tons of marble statues of dragons and lions and some pretty extravagant pagodas and temples to see as well – all with a great ocean and city view!
So there you have it, 9 great reasons to actually stop in Da Nang on your trip through Vietnam! It was one of my favorite spots and I’m sure it will be one of yours too.