Da Nang doesn’t deserve to be overlooked as a travel destination in Vietnam, though that is all too often the case since the UNESCO recognized Hoi An lies just 30 minutes away in one direction, while 30 minutes the other way brings you to the beginning of the Hai Van Pass, the famous coastal route to Hue.
Stick around Da Nang for at least two days though, and you’ll find that Vietnam’s third major city is a modern, globally minded place, filled with great eateries, resorts and outdoor experiences. The streets are wider and emptier than Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the air is fresher, and life moves at a more relaxed pace. There is easy access to nature, to the mountains and jungles of the central highlands, while right on the fringe of the city is a 5km stretch of pristine beach.
Da Nang is well worth a 48 hour trip at least, where you can recharge your batteries at the midway point of Vietnam.
9am: Han Market and Mi Quang
There’s no need to hurry around today, so feel free to sleep in a bit, unless sunrise at the beach is your thing (Don’t worry though, we’ll save the beach for later).
Soak up life on the streets as you wander over the Han River to Han Market, a lively and bustling multi-storey market. Don’t worry, this is no tourist trap, it’s just a regular market for regular citizens of Da Nang, where merchants sell clothing, food and homeware. Markets like this aren’t necessarily the best places to shop, but they offer a tremendous insight into the way of life around here, and if you’re handy with a camera, they make for great photo opportunities.
Keep an eye out for the regional specialty Mi Quang being sold on the streets. It’s further delicious proof that Vietnamese cooks are able to serve up noodles and broth in any number of ways and make each distinctive from the other. Mi Quang consists of rice noodles swimming in a rich, herbaceous turmeric laced broth, filled with pork, chicken or more often than not, shrimp. It’s topped off with a sprinkling of peanuts, a squeeze of lime and an optional dose of fresh chilli, and served with a side of toasted sesame rice crackers for breaking off and dunking in the broth.
11am: Adventure time - Visit Lady Budda
If you’re near the coast in Da Nang, you can’t miss the 70 meter statue of the Goddess of Mercy, more commonly known as “Lady Buddha”. She pierces the horizon as you look out into Da Nang Bay and the Son Tra Peninsula, where she stands at Linh Ung Pagoda.
Catch a motorcycle out there, and pay good attention during the journey -- the ride out along the coastal road is breathtaking, and the views from Son Tra are magnificent. You might hear some people referring to the area as Monkey Mountain by the way… This nickname was given by US Soldiers during the war, owing to the hordes of monkeys that hung around the jungles, cliffs and hills.
If you have the time, head on around the peninsula and inland up to Ban Co Peak for a view over the whole of Da Nang, and a little further on brings you to a former US helicopter port with equally good views. Keep on following the road on a full loop back towards the sleepy coastal village by Tien Sa beach, and get back into town by late afternoon.
4.30pm: Sunset on the beach
If you haven’t already noticed, beaches in Vietnam are pretty quiet during the daytime -- the blazing sunshine is a deterrent, as is the rain -- but in the evening time they fill up with groups of people exercising, practicing martial arts, frolicking in the ocean, or just strolling hand in hand alongside the creeping waves. Head down a little earlier than the madding crowd and take a refreshing plunge if the sea is calm, and then spend the next hour or so people-watching as day turns into night.
7pm: Craft beer and great food with a view at 7 Bridges Brewing Co.
Craft beer breweries began to pop up in Vietnam in 2014, and since then the scene has been booming. 7 Bridges Brewing Co. is the first Da Nang based taproom, opened in 2017. It’s on a rooftop right on the banks of the Han River, and as well as serving excellent craft beer, they have an extensive menu of great food, all to be enjoyed with a view of the famous Dragon Bridge.
7.30am: Ba Na Hills
By now you must have seen the famous picture of the famous Golden Bridge, seemingly held aloft by a gigantic, Godly pair of hands. They can be found at Ba Na Hills, a former hill station turned amusement park and resort outside of Da Nang.
Why go so early? Thousands and thousands of travelers pass through the resort every day, and it can get very crowded. Head earlier in the morning to enjoy it when things are a little quieter.
Take the 6,000 metre cable car journey to get there, flying over waterfalls and jungle on the hillside. As you might expect, the views from the top are splendid, and even when it’s overcast, this only heightens the drama on the Golden Bridge. If you fancy some old fashioned fairground fun, there are attractions such as bumper cars and rollercoasters, and a wax museum to boot. If you’re after something more ‘cultured’, explore the pagodas and temples around the hillside.
1pm: War History at the Marble Mountain Mountains
Spend the afternoon exploring the staggering network of caves and sanct temples within the Marble Mountains. During the Vietnam War, the caves deep within these mountains were used as field hospitals by the Viet Cong, where they would be protected from American bombing raids. If you’ve got the energy, climb to the peak of Thuy Mountain for yet more stunning views of the surrounding province. You’ll notice scores of marble statues and crafts around the place, particularly at the entrance. Until recently, these were often made from mined mountain rock, but this activity is now banned to preserve the mountains.
7pm: Dragon Bridge and dinner by the river
After resting and freshening up at your hotel, take the evening to wind down nicely after a day on the move. Take a relaxed stroll through the streets to the promenade by the Han River and find somewhere to eat. There are plenty of seafood eateries along here where you can feast for very little money, and gaze at the lights on the Dragon Bridge, built in 2009 to symbolize power, nobility and fortune . If you’re here on a weekend, stick around until 9pm, when the bridge lights up even more dramatically and…. Breathes fire. Think we’re joking? Go see it!