Vietnam Part 1 – Da Nang – March 2019

Our travel to Da Nang went as planned; the flights to Bangkok ran to schedule with a decent stopover in Beijing and our accommodation in Thailand was just the job for a nights rest before heading to Da Nang.  We did realise that we arrived in one Bangkok airport and departed from another (arrived at Suvarnabhumi – BKK and departed from Don Mueang – DMK) but were able to get a taxi to take us to DMK for our Air Asia flight in plenty of time.  Despite a slightly delayed departure for our flight, we arrived in Da Nang just before 7pm.  It is a small airport and was pretty painless collecting our bags and getting through passport control, we told them we intended to stay for a week, and they gave us a visa for 10 days.

We booked the Queen’s Finger Hotel in Da Nang which had great reviews, included breakfast and had a rooftop pool which looked amazing.  For £113 for the week we thought this was pretty reasonable! We were not disappointed with the hotel and would highly recommend it for the hospitality and cleanliness; the breakfast was nice and we really did love the pool.  We never tired of the view from the roof and if you stay here a sunset swim and cocktails after dark are a must!  We were also given a free airport transfer when we left.

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We stayed in the My An area of Da Nang which is quieter than the main city and seems to be the centre for all the English teachers working in the area. It has plenty of bars and restaurants.  It also has a really lovely beach (called Bac My An) with quite strong waves and currents so you really do have to watch the flags and be careful; never the less it is stunning and we got up one morning to watch the sunrise.  We were quite amazed at how many people were up exercising on the beach at 5am!

Due to having some ‘local knowledge’ from Elisa and Tucker we managed to visit a variety of restaurants and bars around the area.  There were plenty of choices of western food including burgers, pizzas and Mexican as well as local cuisine.  All were very reasonably priced with meals around £1.50 and beer for around 80p.  On our first night, we managed to have a meal for 4 with 6 litres of beer for less than £5!  If you are looking for late night entertainment it was quite limited however there are 24 hour convenience stores if you fancy a late night drink or snack.  One place we really liked was the Night Market where there was a range of international food and drink to suit everyone.  Additionally, we really liked the chilled out vibe of  Heaven Bar and the live music was certainly entertaining! The crazy Korean bar owner is quite a sight and is very ‘entertaining’ in his own right.  Crazy Cats also had a really good open mike night which was fun, and may just have unearthed a budding pop star or two (yes Tucker we are talking about you!). The quality of the acts was top class. This was very much an ‘ex-pat’ bar, with a line-up and audience consisting mainly of English people.

To get around outside of the area we used the taxi app Grab which worked really well and is very similar to Uber but you can pay cash.  A popular choice of transport here are mopeds however we didn’t feel brave or prepared enough to hire one; if it is your thing however you can hire one from as little as 100K a day (about £3.30).

Just down the coast is Hoi An, a popular tourist destination which was easily reachable by taxi for about £3 each way.  Hoi An is well known for its well preserved ancient town and used to be an active trading port from the 15th to the 19th Century.  It can only be accessed by road as there is no train station there.  We spent a few hours there taking in the ambience and wandering around the stalls.  It was quite touristy and very multicultural but we enjoyed our time here.  It is definitely worth the visit if you are nearby for its charm and culture.   Afterwards, we headed to An Bang Beach where we chilled out on some loungers and had a lovely swim.  The beach was very busy and quite touristy with copious beachfront bars, restaurants and tourist shops but it was lovely nevertheless. It was great to be reminded just how much fun you can have jumping around in strong, big waves 🙂

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In the opposite direction to Hoi An is another must-see place – Lady Buddha, the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam.  It is located in the Linh Ung Pagoda courtyard and stands at 67 metres, the equivalent of a 30 story building.  Lady Buddha is facing the sea and is visible from My An beach and we ‘grabbed’ a taxi there one afternoon.  The courtyard itself was quite spectacular. Elisa had predicted a stay of around 10 minutes, as “there’s not much to see”, 4 or 5 hours later, after hanging around to get some sunset pics and watch the city of Da Nang light up in the distance, Nigel still had to be reluctantly dragged away.

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Lady Buddha was pretty magnificent close-up; there did not seem to be an option to climb to the top but standing at the foot of her was spectacular nevertheless.

 

Walking behind Lady B were some really lovely gardens; probably missed by a lot of people who just come to see the lady herself! we had a really nice wander around here and there were random statues of animals and very noisy mating frogs!

We enjoyed watching Lady Buddha changing colour with the sunset tones and seeing the view change as night was falling.  It was one of the highlights of our visit and if you get the chance to be there this time of day you would not be disappointed.

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Before coming to Vietnam we had seen pictures of a golden bridge held up by hands and this was classed as a ‘must see’ when in the area; we had no idea exactly what was there except it was in Ba Na Hills located 35 kilometres southeast from Da Nang.  We booked a day trip here through a local tourist company and were picked up in the morning and driven there.  We knew very little about what we were going to see or experience there.  It cost around £30 for the trip and unfortunately, there was no commentary in English on the coach but given the higher price of other tours, we didn’t complain too much.   What became apparent on arrival is that Ba Na Hills is actually a theme park of sorts based on a French village theme and is an extremely busy tourist destination.

In order to reach the park, your journey starts on a cable car which has two world records for both the longest and highest cable cars in the world.  A journey on the cable car takes approximately 20- 30 minutes until you reach the Golden Bridge.

The journey itself was really very nice with some great views; although if you have a fear of heights you may not be quite so keen.  When we reached the top we were met by huge crowds of tourists who wanted to take their opportunities to get their pictures on the Golden Bridge.  Despite the scrums, we did manage to get some nice pictures but you can see how busy it was.

The first part of the park consisted of stalls and gardens which were also very busy.  We had about an hour here which wasn’t so long but given the crowds, this was actually ideal.  In this part was an area called Le Jardin D’amour.  The gardens were very well kept and were impressively arranged.  There was also a Buddha statue but nowhere near as impressive as Lady B!

After meeting up with our group again we headed back onto the cable car and went further up to Fantasy Park.  This area resembled Disneyland, with copious food and drink options and a few rides.  We had an all-inclusive lunch here in the Beer Cellar restaurant and had a go in the 3D and 4D cinema.  Also here is what is classed as an authentic taste of France, a recreated village attempting to give you a taste of the West in the East.   For anyone who has ever been to France, this was a disappointing effort but we could see why people who had never been there could enjoy this.  All in all, we tried to make the best of our day but it was so busy that it was difficult to move at times. It was a little too commercial and expensive for our liking and not somewhere we would be keen to go back to.

In contrast to Ba Na Hills we had a lovely trip to the Marble Mountains; located between Da Nang and Hoi An and again easily reachable by taxi.  We found to be more of an authentic and less commercial experience.  The Marble Mountains consist of 5 hills made out of limestone and surprisingly enough, marble.

The five hills are named after the elements but only one is open to the public and that is Mount Thuy which represents water.  You are also able to climb to the top to get spectacular views.  The entrance fee here cost 40,000 Dong (£1.32) and the lift was an optional extra for 15,000 (50p) which was very reasonable.  It involved quite a bit of climbing and stairs which for me was very difficult however the lift was very welcome.

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The Mountain was home to several  Buddist and Hindu grottoes and was a popular spot for keen abseilers. Also available for entry at 15,000 dong (50p) was the entrance to the cave Am Phu which was a little sinister and depicted a trip to hell.   We didn’t spend too long in there but for the price, it was worth a look!

Many tours run to the Marble Mountains as part of day trips but in all honesty, it was so cheap to get there (approx £4 return in a taxi) and the entrance fees were really reasonable that you wouldn’t need to book a tour.    You could easily spend 3-4 hours here and we really enjoyed our visit.  Also outside is a great place to get marble souvenirs and we picked up a few bits including a pestle and mortar for £2.  We would recommend this over Ba Na Hills any day!

We had a lovely afternoon in Son Tra one day just chilling by the sea in a wooden hut.  The place we went to was known due to local knowledge but was actually part of a restaurant called Bien Dao Viet.  The wooden huts allow access to the sea although this is tricky to navigate especially with the waves.  We and chilled with some beers and some food from the restaurant.  The local dogs even took advantage of our leftovers when a storm forced us to rapidly relocate to find shelter. We are keen snorkellers, and we had a go. Getting in and out of the water was tricky here, and it took at least 5 minutes to see the first living thing in the sea, a crab. We then saw lots of rubbish and plastic stuck in the seabed so as dives go, it was a little disappointing, marginally rescued by coming across a family of a dozen or so zebrafish (Girella Zebra).

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Probably the most well-known monument in Da Nang is Dragon Bridge and we were lucky enough to see it both during the day and at night.  One afternoon we got a taxi to the bridge and walked north across to the main city.  The bridge spans 666 metres over the River Han and was officially opened in 2013; it comprises of 6 lanes and serves as a direct route to My Khe Beach and Non Nuoc beach.

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Every Saturday and Sunday evenings at 9pm there is a display of lights, fire and water and on our last night, we headed down there to see what all the fuss was about.  It was very busy down by the bridge with many locals as well as tourists.  Many boat trips also run along the river at this time.  If you are there on a Saturday or Sunday it is worth the trip just to see this spectacular even it only lasts for 15 minutes or so.

Alas, our time in Da Nang had come to an end but we had really enjoyed our time here; despite all the places we visited we still had plenty of time for relaxing by the pool and chilling out.  We had never heard of Da Nang and had no real idea what to expect but can only see it growing in popularity over the next few years.  Staying in the My An area gave us a respite from the busy main city but everything was also accessible from where we were.  Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is one of the world’s 5 communist countries along with China, Cuba, North Korea (DPRK) and neighbouring Laos, but don’t let that put you off. Reforms such as the socialist-oriented market economic reforms of 1986 – Đổi Mới, mean that most visitors wouldn’t even realise they were in a communist country, and on another plus, we certainly didn’t witness or even hear of any human rights abuses. In this case, communism only appears to be expressed in having a single political party, with all opposition being outlawed.  In respect of the cost of living, compared to the UK this was minimal and it is possible to live very cheaply here and with an excellent work-life balance.  We were very lucky to have such excellent guides, Elisa and Tucker, with local knowledge which made our trip all the more enjoyable and it was lovely to see them doing so well and enjoying life.

Time now to leave our relaxing week in Da Nang to head to the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh!

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