Previously occupied by both the French and the Americans, Da Nang marks the halfway point between the capital in the north, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City in the south. It’s the fourth largest city in Vietnam. Apart from some shopping highlights and historical sights, the main reason for most travellers staying here is its proximity to the well-known My Khe Beach, Lang Co Beach, Hoi An and My Son.
Lang Co Beach is lined with palm trees, the water of the nearby ocean crystal-clear and enticing, lapping onto white sand. It is a peninsula with a sparkling lagoon on one side, and the beach on the other. The area is fairly under-developed, although recent years have seen many new hotels opening.
My Khe Beach is more developed, since it was a popular spot for American soldiers seeking R&R during the Vietnam-US War. Water sport activities here are in abundance, and it can get very crowded over weekends and holidays. Da Nang’s coastline stretches 30 kilometres, renowned for calm, cool waters and also popular for fishing, water-skiing, diving, and yachting.
How to get there:
With an airport with daily flights from across cities in Vietnam and a train station, Da Nang is easily accessible. It is just over 760 km from Hanoi, and almost 950 km from Ho Chi Minh City.
What to see
The best attractions in Da Nang are a good mix of centuries-old pagodas, French colonial buildings, as well as tranquil beaches with clear blue waters, and verdant national parks. Da Nang is known as the tourist capital of South Central Vietnam, with a west-coast location that makes for beautiful sunsets against an impressive backdrop of lush mountains.
If you’re looking to soak up the sun while on vacation, Da Nang’s pristine beaches offer a wide range of fun-filled activities and sightseeing opportunities. The best time to visit is between May and August, when the sun is out all day, and the waters are calm.
A cluster of five hills made from limestone and marble, Marble Mountains are a well-known pilgrimage site with peaks, caves, tunnels and temples all just waiting to be discovered. Named after the elements metal, wood, water, fire and earth, Marble Mountains exist in a coastal area that is renowned for stone cutting and sculpture about 9km south of Danang.
The caves within the mountains hold many secrets including bullet holes from when troops used to spy on the US soldiers relaxing on My Khe Beach below and buildings standing within the caves and grottoes.
There are also a host of Buddhist sanctuaries and places of worship dotted across the mountains, which are a much-visited spiritual site. There are many pagoda temples and even a special circular cave featuring a chimney leading to the summit with spectacular panoramic views.
According to ancient folklore, a dragon emerged from the water on Non Nuoc Beach and laid an egg. A thousand days and a thousand nights followed before the egg hatched, and out stepped a beautiful girl. The fragments of the shell were left on the beach and eventually grew into the five mystical Marble Mountains.
Today, one of the most popular highlights is climbing up the Marble Mountains and enjoying spectacular views across Non Nuoc, also known as My Khe Beach. The Mountain of Water which is home to pagodas dating back to the 17th century and a number of caves is one the most frequented climbs with a steep hike up stone steps to Tam Quan Gate and its superb vistas to Mount Kim Son or Metal Mountain and the coastline from the Riverview Tower located next to the gate. The Riverview Tower dates back to the 18th century and the reign of the Emperor Minh Mang.
Close by is Van Nguyet Grotto, which is a nice resting spot where you can grab a fresh coconut to drink. The Lantern Cave is also worth a look, small but deep and filled with lava along with Am Phu Cave which heads down to a very scenic viewpoint.
It can take up to four hours to explore all of Marble Mountains so its good to start early when it is not so hot and of course wear comfortable shoes, and if you can, bring a torch. Vietnamese children sell souvenirs at Marble Mountains and you can expect to be hassled until you've either bought a gift or 'tipped' them a few dollars for a 'guided tour'.
Dragon Bridge in Da Nang is the longest bridge in Vietnam, offering a dazzling display of lights, fire, and water that no first-time visitor to Da Nang should miss out on. Measuring at 666 metres in length, it is located in Da Nang City and constructed in the shape of a golden dragon.
The six-lane bridge crosses the Han River, serving as direct routes to My Khe Beach and Non Nuoc Beach as well as a popular spot amongst travelling photographers. Dragon Bridge was officially opened in 2013 after a two-year-long construction, commemorating the 38th anniversary of Da Nang City’s liberation. According to local beliefs, which date back to the Ly Dynasty, the dragon is a significant symbol of power, nobility and good fortune.
While it’s a magnificent sight at any time of the day, Dragon Bridge Da Nang is particularly cool (and packed with sightseers) in the evening as it is illuminated with colourful LED lights. On weekends and annual festivities, the state-of-the-art bridge is also scheduled to spit water or breathe fire from its mouth from 21:00 onwards.
There are also plenty of riverfront bars, restaurants, and cafes offering terrace seats that overlook Vietnam’s longest bridge. Alternatively, you can opt to sit at the waterfront (where marble carvings of animals and deities are set along the Han River) to enjoy the view.
My Khe Beach
Considered to be Vietnam's most picturesque beach, the white sandy 20-mile stretch of My Khe Beach was named by the American troops who visited during the Vietnam War for R&R. Known locally by its proper name Non Nuoc, it offers excellent surfing from September just off the shores of Danang. There are also a number of high-end resorts within the vicinity should you be in need of pampering with most offering a rich choice of treatments at their spas and a range of dining options.
Sunbathing and surfing aside, there is a host of historical sites situated close by including the port of Hoi An which is only 10 minutes away by bus and offers wonderfully preserved merchant houses and small alleyways to explore. Hoi An is also a superb place to get anything you desire tailor made usually within 12 hours, and while you wait it’s definitely recommended that you try some local delights including very fresh shrimp pancakes.
Once listed in Forbes Magazine as one of the 'World's Most Luxurious Beaches', the stunning sands of My Khe Beach offer surfers and sun seekers a gloriously unspoilt hideaway with a host of big brand hotels such as Raffles and Hyatt opening or due to open very soon.
The My Khe Beach area was first flung into the spotlight thanks to the My Khe Beach television show broadcast on American networks highlighting US Vietnam War soldiers enjoying rest and play in Da Nang. After the war, the beach became a well-known spot on the backpacker trail before heading upmarket to today's more glamorous resort scene.
My Khe Beach benefits from being perfectly located at the heart of World Heritage sites - the ancient port of Hoi An, the mysterious Phing Nga Caves, the home place of the Champa population and the revered imperial city of Hue are all easily accessible. My Khe Beach is also reaping the rewards of an increasing number of international flight connections from Singapore, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City to name a few
Phap Lam Pagoda
The Phap Lam Pagoda is set within a two-storey building along Ong Ich Khiem Street, featuring plenty of trees, manicured gardens, and beautiful Buddhist sculptures. Despite its location within the bustling Da Nang city centre, the atmosphere here is very serene with locals praying in the morning and monks going about their daily lives. The courtyard of the pagoda houses a 1.1-metre-high seated Buddha statue and brass statues of the Goddess of Mercy (Avalokitecvara) and Dai The Chi Bodhisattva. Visitors can also enjoy vegetarian cuisine at local restaurants and food carts surrounding Phap Lam Pagoda.
Hai Van Pass
Hai Van Pass or Sea Clouds Pass offers an impressive landscape of verdant mountains and clear blue skies, overlooking Da Nang City, Tien Sa Port, Son Tra Peninsula, and South China Sea. Crossing over a spur of Truong Son mountain range between Thua Thien-Hue Province and Da Nang City, it stands at 500m above sea level, making it the highest pass in Vietnam.
The 25 kilometre-long mountain pass is popular amongst thrill-seeking motorcyclists due to its winding roads, sudden curves and blind corners, while its lookout point offers gorgeous views of Da Nang Bay.
The pass also hosts the ancient Tran Dynasty’s Hai Van Gate, Hai Van Tunnel (the longest in ASEAN), wartime gun towers, and a decrepit French-built fort that was later used as a bunker by South Vietnamese and US armies during the Vietnam War. Prior to the construction of the Hai Van Tunnel, the mountain pass was notorious for its fair share of fatal accidents – look out for small altars set along the roadside that are dedicated to perished victims.
The Cham Museum in Da Nang commemorates the culture, lifestyle, and practices of Vietnam's indigenous Cham tribe, who have roots dating back as far as 192AD. Founded during the colonial French rule in 1915, it is known as the only museum of its kind in the world. Cham Museum Da Nang is divided into ten interior exhibition rooms, where 300 terracotta and stone sculptures from the 7th to the 15th centuries are showcased according to the region in which they were found. The museum also offers daily guided tours for groups of five and above.
Da Nang Cathedral
Da Nang Cathedral is one of the most unique catholic churches in Vietnam, featuring a pink-painted edifice, stained-glass windows, and an imposing bell tower topped with a rooster weathercock. Built by the French in 1923, it’s also known as Con Ga Church (Rooster Church) and serves the local Catholic community to this very day. The cathedral is located along Tran Phu Street, about a 15-minute walk from the iconic Dragon Bridge. Entrance to Da Nang Cathedral is free of charge and its high tower offers a stunning view of the city, Han River, and verdant mountains.
The Fifth Military Division Museum
The Fifth Military Division Museum of Da Nang offers visitors a glimpse of Vietnam’s tumultuous past, featuring displays of war relics, news articles, and photographs taken by soldiers of the Fifth Military Division. The massive museum is divided into four main sections, including outdoor and indoor display areas, a replica of Ho Chi Minh's residence, and a Ho Chi Minh Museum. Housing authentic aircraft, military tanks, and weapons used during the French and American wars, must-sees include the A-37 Dragonfly light-attack aircraft, Cessna O-1 Bird Dog observation aircraft, and the M48 Patton gun tank.