Last Minute Decisions Lead To Big Adventures: Da Nang, Vietnam
Vietnam wasn’t in our plans during our 3 weeks in Asia.
Before we embarked we only had booked our round-trip flights to the Philippines. We had sites on visiting Hong Kong, Thailand, and South Korea however, our only solid plan was getting to Seoul in order to return home. By not restricting our schedule allowed us to travel to an unplanned country, Vietnam. It was one of the best decisions we made.
Another reason why not having strict itineraries is a huge bonus!
While in Hong Kong, we told ourselves that we didn’t want to spend too much of our travels in a cityscape. With Bangkok and Seoul looming in our future, we decided to cut the amount of time in Seoul and take a detour to Da Nang, Vietnam. Yes, it is also a city, but compared to the others we were visiting it was only a fraction of their size plus offered a beach.
We managed to get passport photos, printed visas, and even tracked down glue sticks (to paste the photos to the application) while in Bangkok. This probably took 3-4 hours, but a necessity since Vietnam entry requires a visa for American citizens.
Da Nang and the neighboring Hoi An was a bit of a mystery and we didn’t really know what to expect. We only heard of beautiful beaches and a quieter nightlife. What we experienced was much more.
Da Nang was a vibrant little city that was sprouting new hotels, restaurants, and bars like they just won the lottery. Apparently, this area is not too popular with western tourists but it’s definitely on the brink. It had all the signs and symptoms of other Asian destinations; good food, cheap beer, and loads of Chinese tourists. What really took us by surprise was its beauty and amazing people.
They must not see too many westerners there because we were constantly stopped by locals, usually while on a motorbike, asking where we were from. A budding tourism industry can sometimes lead to resentment and isolationism from its locals but it was the exact opposite in Danang and Hoi An. The people couldn’t have been happier to see westerners and their inquisitive nature wasn’t restrained.
Numerous times we were given lectures by a local, mostly in broken English, about how beautiful their country is and how happy they were to see tourists. The sheer joy in their faces when we told them how amazing it was validated their own views of Vietnam.
Da Nang reminded us of an Asian San Diego. Small, coastal city but with much fewer hotels and tourists….for now. Lining the coast was a couple of older hotels but the amount of construction currently happening is astounding. It seemed like every block had a big name hotel purchasing the lands. Marriott, Hilton, Radisson, and even condos are about to line the endless Vietnamese coastline.
As of right now, the beaches lacked great restaurants and bars but “downtown” Danang was bustling. We spent a couple nights navigating the roads, shoulder-to-shoulder with other motorists. A couple of years ago Da Nang decided to build a bridge that resembles a dragon. This bridge has become a symbol of the city and one that’s still revered by the locals. On the weekends the bridge is swarmed with motorbikes waiting to watch the dragon shoot fire and smoke from its mouth. An awesome bridge to say the least.
Only 9 kilometers north of the city you can find the Linh Ung Pagoda on the Son Tra peninsula. A stunning pagoda that was only completed in 2010 feels much older since it was built to resemble 18th century Ming Mang Dynasty. Overlooking the pagoda and the sea is the largest Lady Buddha in Vietnam. Looking upon the sea, her job is to protect the local fisherman from winds and rough water. One can also capture the best view of Danang from the peninsula.
Just south of the city are the Marble Mountains. A cluster of 5 marble and limestone hills all named after the five elements (metal, water, wood, fire, and earth). Scattered throughout the mountains are numerous caves, grottos, and tunnels that can serve as a much-needed escape from the intense heat and humidity. However, walking around the mountains isn’t easy. Expect steep steps and loads of tourists.
Da Nang should be on the top of everyone’s list whenever they are in Vietnam. Expect to hear a lot more about this destination, along with Hoi An (more on Hoi An in another blog), in the next few years.
Hanoi in the North and Ho Chi Minh City in the South are the popular cities visited in Vietnam, but Da Nang has one huge advantage. And that is it’s rarely affected by the monsoon season. Traveling in South East Asia can be risky during the months of June-August but Da Nang tends to stay dry. Da Nang is primed to breakout and become recognized as a major destination. Trust us. Get there asap!